December 31, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Mediator in Taliban-U.S. talks backed Kashmir jihad (PRAVEEN SWAMI, 12/29/11, The Hindu)

Egyptian-born Mr. al-Qaradawi is seen by both the United States and the Taliban traditionalists as an ally in the battle against the growing influence of this new generation of commanders. Expelled from his homeland for his Islamist views, he has emerged over the last year as ideological pole star of the Muslim Brotherhood -- now West Asia's most influential political movement.

In 1993, Mr. al-Qaradawi issued a landmark edict endorsing democratic pluralism; the Muslim Brotherhood later cast its embrace of electoral politics in Egypt and elsewhere as a form of da'wa, or proselytising missionary work. Even though Mr. al-Qaradawi said he remained committed to "the spread of Islam until it conquers the entire world," he argued this could be achieved peacefully.

He condemned 9/11 and, in September, 2005, described the Iraqi jihadist Abu Musa'ab al-Zarqawi as a "criminal." In a 2009 book, he defended armed jihad under specific conditions -- Kashmir, Iraq and, later, Libya were among those cases he endorsed -- but lashed out at al-Qaeda for a "mad declaration of war on the whole world."

Mr. al-Qaradawi explained his logic thus to Der Spiegel: "The [Muslim Brotherhood] have tried [jihad], but [jihad] has not been helpful, and we have not gained anything out of [jihad] other than detention, suffering, and victimisation."

The Muslim Brotherhood's decision to embrace electoral politics incensed al-Qaeda. In 2008, al-Qaeda's now-chief Ayman al-Zawahiri lashed out at the Muslim Brotherhood for accepting the Egyptian constitution, rather than God's word, as a source of law -- a fundamental betrayal, he claimed, of the precepts of Islam. In many countries, Brotherhood cadre clashed with salafi-jihadist groups sympathetic to al-Qaeda.

The west's embrace of Mr. al-Qaradawi for its Afghan negotiations marks the restoration of an old, but little-known, relationship. Key Brotherhood leaders like Said Ramadan, the historian Ian Johnson has shown, were cultivated by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency for anti-communist operations --along with several central and west Asian Islamists who fought with German fascist forces against the Soviet Union in 1941-1945.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Benedict Cumberbatch: the ideal Holmes: The BBC's 'Sherlock' took Benedict Cumberbatch from rising star to pin-up. Now returning as the sleuth, and with parts in Spielberg's 'War Horse' and Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit', global fame looks certain. He talks to Olly Grant. (Olly Grant, 30 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

[I]t is Cumberbatch's mesmerising performance as a speed-talking brainiac, so lacking in human empathy he appears to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum, that has been the key focus of all the attention. [...]

Post-Sherlock, he has metamorphosed into something bigger and odder - a pin-up. Odder, that is, because Cumberbatch, with his long face, blanched skin and very pale blue eyes, is not a conventional heart-throb. You can see why he was as much at ease playing the monster as his creator in the National's recent adaptation of Frankenstein. And yet the swooning web interest in Cumberbatch is legion, from the "Cumberbitches" - a Twitter collective devoted to his daily appreciation - to endless blogs and forums. [...]

War Horse debuts on January 13, by which time Cumberbatch will be preparing for an even bigger role. He's off to New Zealand to voice and "physicalise" the dragon in The Hobbit, in which Sherlock's Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf.

McKellen said Cumberbatch's Smaug screen-test was amazing, I tell him. Cumberbatch splutters. "Has... has he seen it?" Actually, McKellen's words were "electrifying - vocally and facially". He looks ecstatic. "Wow! I'm very flattered." He seems entirely sincere when he says this. He comes across, in general, as earnest - with a searching intelligence.

So how did Cumberbatch do the audition? "I went a little reptile on it," he says, enigmatically. With filming approaching, he is now "starting to look at animations, and Komodo dragons at London Zoo. They have some amazing ones. Snakes, too. So I've been going there to see how the skeleton moves differently, what the head movements are like." He says it's all in the posture, and he crouches forward, swivelling his eyes snakily, to demonstrate.

Cumberbatch's initial reference point for Smaug, interestingly, was his father, the actor Timothy Carlton. "The Hobbit was the first book I remember reading at bedtime, and he characterised the whole thing," he explains. "It was the first imaginary landscape I had in my head, so it's very close to me."

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Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Michele Bachmann Smiles Through (Lloyd Grove, Dec 31, 2011, Daily Beast)

In one of the more memorable scenes from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, King Arthur and the Black Knight attack each other with swords.  The fight apparently comes to a swift conclusion when Arthur lops off one of the Knight's arms. "'Tis but a scratch," the Knight insists as blood spurts like a geyser. So Arthur lops off the other arm. "Come on, then!" the Knight taunts as he commences kicking. "Look, you stupid bastard," Arthur protests, "you've got no arms left!" The Knight scoffs: "Yes I have! It's just a flesh wound."

So Arthur lops off both of the Knight's legs. "All right," the limbless torso concedes, "we'll call it a draw."

So it was on Friday afternoon as wounded Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann--her Iowa juggernaut losing limbs of its own, notably her political director and state chairman (a treacherous defector to Ron Paul)--parked her campaign bus beside a coffee house here and glad-handed voters like a champion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Twenty years later, Havel's model still has lessons for the Middle East (Greg Bruno, Jan 1, 2012 , The National)

But if the Velvet Revolution has anything to tell us about change in the Middle East and North Africa, it's that revolutions - quick to begin - can be agonisingly slow to play out. Tossing out old leaders or reshuffling the political order is act one. Revolutionary change requires deep and painful reflection, and decades of effort.

It is now more than 20 years since the former Czechoslovakia finally dismantled the communist apparatus. And yet, many Czechs are only now becoming aware of what they inherited. Income disparity is increasing, and many families worry about food prices, taxes and high rents - inequality that communism in theory protected against. "It's all new to us," one young mother told me on this recent trip. [...]

Of course, Arabs have grown more interested in Havel's work and his views on despotism, democracy and freedom. Many in the Middle East are now comparing the Czech uprising with Arab protests, and particularly the fact that communism fell without a single bullet being fired.

Havel, too, wondered what "good" would come of his nation's revolution. Twenty-two years ago today, the former president addressed his six-week old state with a dose of reality. "We cannot blame the previous rulers for everything," he said, "not only because it would be untrue, but also because it would blunt the duty that each of us faces today: namely, the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly."

"If we realise this," Havel went on, "then all the horrors that the new Czechoslovak democracy inherited will cease to appear so terrible."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


America's Play for Pacific Prosperity: The U.S. has quietly set up a bipartisan Asia policy that may be as influential as the Marshall Plan and NATO. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 12/29/11, WSJ)

Beginning with the Clinton administration, which ended the trade embargo with Vietnam in 1994 and normalized relations a year later, the U.S. has been deepening its relations with key Asian countries. U.S. engagement with India, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, Australia and Singapore is deeper and broader today than it was at the end of the Cold War. This engagement is economic in all cases, military in most. President George W. Bush even signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement with India in 2005, despite the cost of complicating relations with Pakistan.

This poses a strategic dilemma for Beijing. If it doesn't push back, the new U.S.-centered Asian system will continue to develop. But if it tries to block the system, it may frighten its neighbors into an even closer American embrace.

In the last two years, China chose to assert itself by stoking disputes over strategically vital (and perhaps energy-rich) areas of the South China Sea. This alarmed its neighbors, and in turn the Obama administration engineered a dramatic diplomatic revolution that will likely serve as the foundation of the region's security architecture in Asia for some time to come.

On his November visit to Australia, President Obama announced that U.S. Marines will be based in the northern city of Darwin, close enough to the South China Sea to reassure the neighborhood, but far enough away to limit the provocation to China. At the same time, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia would begin uranium sales to India. And last week the State Department announced that Japan, India and the U.S. held the first of a series of trilateral security talks on Asian and global issues.

Also in recent weeks, Japan announced that it was purchasing F-35 fighters from the U.S. and joining negotiations to establish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-backed free-trade initiative covering the Asia-Pacific region. China is currently excluded from the initiative but could be invited in later.

India, Japan and the U.S. are also assisting the junta in Myanmar as it seeks to distance itself from China's suffocating embrace. Shortly after Myanmar canceled a major hydroelectric project intended to sell power to China in September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the country, Japan lifted a ban on aid, and India announced that it is helping Myanmar build a new port.

It was W's embrace of India, Mongolia, Indonesia, etc. that really got things rolling.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


99-year-old divorces wife after he discovered 1940s affair (Nick Squires, 29 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

An Italian couple are to become the world's oldest divorcees, after the 99-year-old husband found that his 96-year-old wife had an affair in the 1940s.

The Italian man, identified by lawyers in the case only as Antonio C, was rifling through an old chest of drawers when he made the discovery a few days before Christmas.

Notwithstanding the time that had elapsed since the betrayal, he was so upset that he immediately confronted his wife of 77 years, named as Rosa C, and demanded a divorce.

Guilt-stricken, she reportedly confessed everything but was unable to persuade her husband to reconsider his decision.

December 30, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 PM


Natural Gas Ends 2011 at 27-Month Low (DAN STRUMPF And RYAN DEZEMBER, 12/29/11, WSJ)

"The sub-$3 levels for gas prices in the winter really point to the incredible amount of nonconventional gas that has come onto the market the last two years," said Gene McGillian, analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. "Our production levels, our mild winter and the gas we have in storage have combined to crush natural gas prices this month."

Natural gas traded as high as $13 per million British thermal units in July 2008. But in recent years, domestic production boomed, with horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," helping producers unleash a flood of gas from shale formations in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and elsewhere.

Natural gas production in the lower 48 states hit a record 71.3 billion cubic feet a day in October, the U.S. Department of Energy said this week.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 PM


Obama administration secretly preparing options for aiding the Syrian opposition (Josh Rogin, December 28, 2011, Foreign Policy)

As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama's administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative. [...]

The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee (IPC), Deputies Committee (DC), or Principals Committee (PC) meetings, the officials said. Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.

The options that are under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.

US intervention in the Arab world since 9-11 has been so easy and successful a president can hardly justify avoiding it.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Europeans don't bond with politically correct euro notes (Deutsche-Welle, 12/30/11)
"What the notes look like is important. The euro is a tangible symbol of Europe," Hans de Heij, project manager in the cash policy division of Dutch central bank DNB, told Deutsche Welle.
In contrast to the beloved Dutch sunflower on the former 50 guilder note, public response to the euro is "emotionally flat," said de Heij, explaining that people have a hard time identifying with composites of old structures that represent different styles, but no real European architecture.
Dutch market researchers TNS Nipo found that 82 percent of respondents could not even recall any theme at all on the euro notes and only one percent were able to identify the era of the portals on the face of the 50-euro bill as Renaissance. On the five-euro note, barely two percent recognized the style of the generic gate as Classical. On the reverse side of the bills, there is a borderless map of Europe and bridges representing various epochs from classical antiquity to the modern age. [...]

Heiner Treinen, a German sociologist and member of the advisory group on the selection of design themes, said that national pride got in the way of consensus, not unlike the infighting among member states over the future of the common currency now.

"There were too many nations with very nationalistic feelings about their country's symbols," said Treinen, who had represented Germany among an EU which then consisted of 15 member states.
"As nations cede more and more of their sovereignty to Brussels, people have a tendency to cling even more ferociously to their own distinctiveness," he added.
The upshot of such disunity was that when a design competition for the euro was launched in 1996, the images on the banknotes were not allowed to reflect any national bias, period. [...]
Robert Ballagh, a Dublin artist who was selected to submit designs on behalf of Ireland for the competition, said that the "eurocrats who devised rules that were supposed to offend no one," wound up encouraging designs that were watered down to the lowest common denominator.
"The euro is a cultural disaster," commented Ballagh. "We've ended up with the dullest banknotes in the history of currency, designed by a committee."

Certainly the oddest phenomenon that this lack of connection produces is that you find euros on the ground all the time.  It's like play money.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM

Adele On World Cafe (World Cafe, 3/11/11, NPR)

At 22 years old, Adele was inspired by the works of Etta James, Jeff Buckley and Jill Scott when she decided to enroll in the BRIT school. By the time of graduation she had perfected her sound and emerged as a soulful songbird and MySpace sensation in 2007 and 2008.

In January 2008, Adele made her premiere on XL Recordings with her full-length debut, 19. Masterfully weaving blues, jazz, folk, pop, and soul into a creative tapestry, 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Pentagon trimming ranks of generals, admirals (Craig Whitlock, 12/20/11, Washington Post)

Pentagon officials said they have eliminated 27 jobs for generals and admirals since March, the first time the Defense Department has imposed such a reduction since the aftermath of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted the military to downsize.

The cuts are part of a broader plan to shrink the upper ranks by 10 percent over five years, restoring them to the their size when the country was last at peace, before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In ordering the cuts, Gates said the military had succumbed over the years to "brass creep," by adding a disproportionate number of jobs at the top. The number of four-star generals and admirals today, for instance, is roughly the same as in 1971, during the Vietnam War, even though the number of active-duty troops has shrunk by half. [...]

Gortney said the Pentagon review ordered each branch of the armed services to sort their generals and admirals into four categories: "must have," "need to have," "good to have" and "nice to have."

At least 10 percent had to fall into the "nice to have" category, he said. In the end, many of those were axed. "We mandated that you had to put the low-hanging fruit in there," Gortney said. "We made them defend every one of their positions."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Americans See Views of GOP Candidates Closer to Their Own: Obama, Bachmann furthest away on ideological scale (Jeffrey M. Jones, 12/29/11, Gallup)

Americans perceive Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul as closest to themselves ideologically, and Michele Bachmann and Barack Obama as furthest away.

A USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate their own ideology -- and the ideology of the eight major presidential candidates -- on a 5-point scale with 1 being very liberal and 5 being very conservative. Americans' mean score on this scale is 3.3, meaning the average American is slightly to the right of center ideologically. Huntsman's score matches that at 3.3, but that mean rating excludes the 45% of Americans who did not have an opinion of Huntsman. Of the better known candidates, Romney's and Paul's 3.5 scores are closest to the average American's ideology.

Perceived Ideology of Presidential Candidates vs Americans' Self-Reported Ideology

Overall, 42% of Americans in the Dec. 15-18 poll describe themselves as very conservative or conservative, 19% as very liberal or liberal, and 37% as moderate. Those figures are in line with what Gallup has measured in recent years for ideological self-identification.

A majority of Americans, 57%, perceive Obama to be liberal, with 23% describing his views as moderate and 15% as conservative.

Many Americans are not highly familiar with the Republican candidates, with between 14% and 45% of respondents unable to rate the GOP candidates' ideologies. that America isn't paying a lick of attention yet. It gives Mitt, in particular, the opportunity to repudiate all the nonsense he's said trying to get the Right to accept him.

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December 29, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Ron Paul Praises Occupy Wall Street (JOHN MCCORMACK, 12/29/11, Weekly Standard)

While campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul praised the Occupy Wall Street movement, comparing it to the Tea Party movement. 

...between affluent old white folks who want their government benefit checks and affluent young white folks who don't want to repay their government benefits?

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


How not to fix the immigration system (Chicago Tribune, December 29, 2011)

Arizonans are rethinking their harsh stance. Immigrant-friendly governments, companies and individuals boycotted the state, costing it hundreds of millions in tourism, conventions and sales. More than 100,000 Hispanics left the state -- exactly as the law intended -- but businesses weren't happy to see them go. Besides being a source of cheap, reliable labor, immigrants are consumers too.

With another round of restrictive measures teed up in the legislature earlier this year, Arizona's business leaders called for a timeout. The bills, which would have denied birth certificates to children of undocumented parents and banned illegal immigrants from driving, among other things, were defeated.

In November, Senate President Russell Pearce, the mouthpiece of the anti-immigrant movement, became the first state legislator in Arizona history to be removed from office via a recall election. He was replaced by a candidate who favors a more balanced approach to immigration reform.

Some Alabama leaders are having second thoughts too. Dubbed the "Juan Crow law," their measure is meant to intimidate immigrants into fleeing the state by, for example, requiring schools to check the residency status of students and their parents -- even though the Supreme Court has long held that children are entitled to a public education regardless of their immigration status. Fearful parents have responded by keeping their kids out of school.

A worker exodus has left farmers and poultry plants without enough help.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


U.S. Bus Riders Surge as Free Wi-Fi Beats Driving (Jeff Plungis, Dec 21, 2011, Bloomberg) and BoltBus led U.S. curbside bus companies that boosted trips by 32 percent this year as travelers opted to leave their cars behind and surf the Internet while traveling, DePaul University researchers said.

The popularity of U.S. intercity buses picking up passengers at the curb rather than in a terminal has been growing since the industry reversed a 46-year decline in 2006, Joseph Schwieterman, director of DePaul's Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. Bus traffic including traditional service grew this year at the fastest pace since 2008, the institute said in a study released today.

Higher gasoline costs make driving a car more expensive at the same time as buses offer access to free Wi-Fi and cheaper fares than on planes and trains, Schwieterman said. Once viewed as a last resort in the U.S., bus travel is now attracting more affluent riders, students and women traveling alone, he said.

"Bus travel is suddenly cool," Schwieterman said. "There's a fatigue over driving combined with a revitalized image of the bus."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


American Enclave Stands Up to Extremists (Allison Kaplan Sommer,  December 29, 2011, Forward)

"They messed with the wrong crowd this time," my friend Sara Eisen, a marketing executive and member of that community, told me. "This time, the bullies came up against Americans." [...]

Less obvious to the casual observer have been the relentless behind-the-scenes efforts of Na'ama's parents and a handful of friends and neighbors, many with marketing and public relations backgrounds, to prevent Beit Shemesh from becoming a place where only ultra-Orthodox Jews are welcome. The media exposure is the most conspicuous evidence of their work. But it has been backed up by months of letter-writing, phone calls, lobbying in the halls of the Knesset and offices of government ministers, and the filing of police complaints and civil lawsuits.

The English-speaking community in Beit Shemesh, where Eisen, a Baltimore native, has lived for the past 15 years, has been attracting American transplants like her since 1991. That's when a group of families, looking to achieve an Israeli version of the American dream, began leaving their cramped city apartments and building houses with yards in the sleepy suburb. Situated 11 miles from Jerusalem and in commuting distance from Tel Aviv, Beit Shemesh had been home to secular and traditional immigrants from North Africa since it was founded, back in the 1950s.

Eisen's street, with its fences and manicured lawns, ends in a cul-de-sac. She likes to joke that she lives on the Modern Orthodox version of Wisteria Lane, the fictional suburban street where the TV show "Desperate Housewives" is set. If the homes weren't built from classic Jerusalem stone, the neighborhood could easily be mistaken for the American suburbs; even the kids run around with baseball caps and jerseys.

Over the past two decades, many North American Jews mulling a move to Israel were lured to Beit Shemesh by its quality of life, relatively affordable housing stock and the chance to provide their children with a religious education at a fraction of the cost of American day school tuition. These English-speaking immigrants -- they now number about 2,500 families -- invested time, energy and money into building the local Orot national religious schools for boys and girls.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing (Greg Miller, 12/13/11, Washington Post)

In the space of three years, the administration has built an extensive apparatus for using drones to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists and stealth surveillance of other adversaries. The apparatus involves dozens of secret facilities, including two operational hubs on the East Coast, virtual Air Force­ ­cockpits in the Southwest and clandestine bases in at least six countries on two continents.

Other commanders in chief have presided over wars with far higher casualty counts. But no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation's security goals.

The rapid expansion of the drone program has blurred long-standing boundaries between the CIA and the military. Lethal operations are increasingly assembled a la carte, piecing together personnel and equipment in ways that allow the White House to toggle between separate legal authorities that govern the use of lethal force.

In Yemen, for instance, the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command pursue the same adversary with nearly identical aircraft. But they alternate taking the lead on strikes to exploit their separate authorities, and they maintain separate kill lists that overlap but don't match. CIA and military strikes this fall killed three U.S. citizens, two of whom were suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

The convergence of military and intelligence resources has created blind spots in congressional oversight. Intelligence committees are briefed on CIA operations, and JSOC reports to armed services panels. As a result, no committee has a complete, unobstructed view.

With a year to go in President Obama's first term, his administration can point to undeniable results: Osama bin Laden is dead, the core al-Qaeda network is near defeat, and members of its regional affiliates scan the sky for metallic glints.

Those results, delivered with unprecedented precision from aircraft that put no American pilots at risk, may help explain why the drone campaign has never attracted as much scrutiny as the detention or interrogation programs of the George W. Bush era. Although human rights advocates and others are increasingly critical of the drone program, the level of public debate remains muted.

Senior Democrats barely blink at the idea that a president from their party has assembled such a highly efficient machine for the targeted killing of suspected terrorists. It is a measure of the extent to which the drone campaign has become an awkward open secret in Washington that even those inclined to express misgivings can only allude to a program that, officially, they are not allowed to discuss.

The next big question is not whether we should be using them but why we aren't targeting dictators with them.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Between the Lines: That prized garage space or curbside spot you've been yearning for may be costing you--and the city--in ways you never realized. A journey into the world of parking, where meter maids are under siege, everybody's on the take, and the tickets keep on coming (Dave Gardetta, 12/1/2011, Los Angeles Magazine)

Anyone scanning Disney Hall's debut calendar in the fall of 2003 would have noticed the size of that first season's schedule, 128 shows in all. That's a weighty number for a new hall--one might have assumed it was chosen by venue management wanting the gravitas of a world-class chamber's arrival or perhaps seeking a broad spectrum of music that could reflect the diverse city. Those guesses would have been wrong. Disney Hall had been built atop Parcel K, a county-owned square of land on Bunker Hill that long had sat empty, awaiting development. For decades Parcel K served a prosaic function: It was a parking lot. Commercial landowners like parking lots; they generate cash until better economic conditions arrive, and blank space can be converted into a more profitable moneymaking device--typically a building. The practice is called "land banking."

Yet before an auditorium could be raised on K, a six-floor subterranean garage capable of holding 2,188 cars needed to be sunk below it at a cost of $110 million--money raised from county bonds. Parking spaces can be amazingly expensive to fabricate. In aboveground structures they cost as much as $40,000 apiece. Belowground, all that excavating and shoring may run a developer $140,000 per space. The debt on Disney Hall's garage would have to be paid off for decades to come, and as it turned out, a minimum schedule of 128 annual shows would be enough to cover the bill. The figure "128" was even written into the L.A. Philharmonic's lease. In 2003, Esa-Pekka Salonen opened Frank Gehry's masterpiece to a packed house with Mahler's Resurrection, and in the years since, concertgoers--who lay out $9 to enter the garage--have steadily funded performances that exist to cover the true price of their parking.

Donald Shoup, a Yale-trained economist and former chair of UCLA's Department of Urban Planning, loves telling this story. Gehry's auditorium may be wonderful, says Shoup, but it is also a fine example of poor planning. The garage--designed to serve the public good--instantly made the Metro immaterial to concertgoers, placed several thousand cars on the road every week, and pumped a few hundred tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Like any parking lot entrance, the one on Bunker Hill sucked air from street life. "L.A.," says Shoup, "required 50 times more parking under Disney Hall than San Francisco would allow at their own hall." Downtown already had an oversupply of garages and lots where music fans could leave their cars. "After a concert in San Francisco," says Shoup, "the streets are full of people walking to their cars, eating in restaurants, stopping into bars and bookstores. In L.A.? The bar next door at Patina is a ghost town." Receipts that should have gone to the philharmonic's endowment instead are funding enough parking for nearly every ticket holder to park a car every night downtown.

L.A. has been a wellspring for a parking guru like Shoup to become self-realized. Our downtown contains more parking spaces per acre than any other city in the world and has been adding them at a rate of about 1,000 a year for a century. If you grew up here, the earliest and most essential phrase drilled into you by adults--"Remember, we're in blue Mickey"--was uttered in a parking lot bigger than Disneyland itself. Angelenos can immediately recognize outsiders, lost souls seen wandering through parking garages with no memory of where the Corolla sits. We valet at Macy's and at the dentist, at Christmas parties and Oscar shindigs: When Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, threw a party to celebrate The Lord of the Rings in 2004, 900 cars showed up on his cul-de-sac. Shaye had the chaparral lot across the street paved to park them all. L.A. can claim the nation's first LEED-certified parking garage (Santa Monica Civic Center), and we depend on other prized garages to plan our day's pilgrimage--Santa Monica (2nd and Colorado, of course), Beverly Hills (Canon and Beverly), Pasadena (Fair Oaks and Green). We dream up complicated strategies to clinch the choicest spot at the curb, and we rely on parking reservations to get on the studio lot, parking passes when returning to our jobs, parking permits to grab a street spot on our streets, and an app to find a space when we go to court to pay a parking ticket.

In the United States hundreds of engineers make careers out of studying traffic. Entire freeway systems like L.A.'s have been hardwired with sensors connecting to computer banks that aggregate vehicle flow, monitor bottlenecks, explain congestion in complicated algorithms. Yet cars spend just 5 percent of their lives in motion, and until recently there was only one individual in the country devoting his academic career to studying parking lots and street meters: Donald Shoup. [...]

John Van Horn, a Shoupista who edits the country's only independent parking magazine, Parking Today, was attending an Australian parking conference five years ago when a local enforcement officer shared a piece of information with him: "Let's face it, only 10 percent of parking citations ever get written." Stateside, Van Horn spoke to enforcement managers around the country, who confirmed the Aussie's remark--drivers with expired meters typically get away 90 percent of the time. Van Horn decided to conduct an experiment. "Once a month," he says, "I visited a friend who lives by the Grove on a street with permit-only parking." Van Horn parked without a city pass on each visit and by year's end had received just two tickets; he escaped without citation about 83 percent of the time. Next, Van Horn parked once a week in a Beverly Hills metered space without paying. His odds improved dramatically. In the span of a year he was cited only twice, a ticket-dodging rate of about 96 percent.

"If you received a ticket for every violation," says Van Horn, "you'd be yelling Parking Nazi! and Selective enforcement! Elected governments aren't ready for that outcry, so cities hold back on tickets." Yet if we evade enforcement as often as Van Horn claims, why does the sight of a ticket on the windshield unhinge our natures? "We break the law often and get away with it," he says. "Deep down inside we know that. What makes us mad is getting caught the few times we do. Ninety percent of drivers on this street got away scot-free today, but I get the ticket? That makes us crazy."

Upon receiving citations, frustrated L.A. drivers have spit on parking officers, slashed their tires, attacked their cars with baseball bats, pulled them from their vehicles to beat them, and even fired handguns at officers. It's like Kabul out there. LAPD commander Michael Williams, the mayor's recent appointment to take charge of the DOT's Parking Enforcement Division, might be better equipped to deal with the assaults. His background? Counterterrorism.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Endeavour: Will the frosty reception for the new Morse thaw?: ITV's 'Endeavour' imagines the early years of Oxford sleuth Inspector Morse. Olly Grant, 12/29/11, Telegraph)

Liverpool-born actor Shaun Evans was under no illusion of the daunting task he faced stepping into the shoes of the late John Thaw. Last August, 31-year-old Evans was unveiled as the face of ITV's Inspector Morse prequel, Endeavour - the title referring to Morse's long-hidden Christian name - which airs on Monday, marking the 25th anniversary of the original series.

Set in 1965, it sees Colin Dexter's beloved sleuth transformed into a younger version of the Morse we knew from 1987 until 2000. A rookie cop. A teetotaller. A proto-Morse. And a disillusioned one, on the brink of resigning from the force. "You find him at a point where he's like, 'I don't know if I can do this any more,' " says Evans. Until, that is, a murder case sets him on the road to, well, everything that follows.
News of the prequel catapulted Evans from rising star (best known for gangster drama The Take) to object of mainstream scrutiny. Fan reaction, though, was mostly disapproving - not of Evans so much as the toying with Morse's legacy.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Israeli Girl, 8, at Center of Tension Over Religious Extremism (ISABEL KERSHNER, 12/28/11, NY Times)

For many Israelis, this is not a fight over one little girl's walk to school. It is a struggle that could shape the future character and soul of the country, against ultra-Orthodox zealots who have been increasingly encroaching on the public sphere with their strict interpretation of modesty rules, enforcing gender segregation and the exclusion of women.

The battle has broadened and grown increasingly visible in recent weeks and months. Orthodox male soldiers walked out of a ceremony where female soldiers were singing, adhering to what they consider to be a religious prohibition against hearing a woman's voice; women have been challenging the seating arrangements on strictly "kosher" buses serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and some inter-city routes, where female passengers are expected to sit at the back.

The virulent coercion in Beit Shemesh has been attributed mainly to a group of several hundred ultra-Orthodox extremists who came here from Jerusalem, known as the Sicarii, or daggermen, after a violent and stealthy faction of Jews who tried to expel the Romans in the decades before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Religious extremism is hardly new to Israel, but the Sicarii and their bullying ilk push with a bold vigor that has yet to be fully explained. Certainly, Israel's coalition politics have allowed the ultra-Orthodox parties to wield disproportionate power beyond the roughly 10 percent of the population they currently represent.

The ultra-Orthodox community's rapidly increasing numbers -- thanks to extraordinarily high birthrates -- may also have emboldened the hard core, as may have their insular neighborhoods. And their leadership appears to lack moderating brakes.
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December 28, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


...when you're in the presence of genius.
Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Time is right to confront Sheriff Arpaio's bias (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 12/28/11, Washington Post)

When the sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County is not impersonating the commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Ala., who symbolized bigotry during the civil rights movement, he sort of resembles the bumbling sheriff's deputy who patrolled Mayberry.

Arpaio has been that way for the 13 years that I've written about him, dating back to when I worked for the Arizona Republic newspaper in the late 1990s. That was a different Arizona. It depended on illegal immigrants; it did not despise them. Ever since the state declared open season last year on illegal immigrants and those who might be suspected of being one (read: Latinos), Arpaio has been attracting attention by hunting people with brown skin and Spanish accents. [...]

In recent years, Arpaio has demonstrated an almost pathological desire to pick on Mexicans and Mexican Americans. I tend to think it's not personal but more about targeting a group that he thinks he can get away with mistreating.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Univision Finds Ratings Success (ADAM W. KEPLER, 12/27/11, NY Times)

Against a full slate of repeats on the big four broadcast networks, the Spanish-language network Univision emerged as the highest-rated channel in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic on Monday night, according to Nielsen data. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Are These the Poems to Remember?: a review of  The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry edited and with an introduction by Rita Dove (Helen Vendler, 11/24/11, NY Review of Books)

Twentieth-century American poetry has been one of the glories of modern literature. The most significant names and texts are known worldwide: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop (and some would include Ezra Pound). Rita Dove, a recent poet laureate (1993-1995), has decided, in her new anthology of poetry of the past century, to shift the balance, introducing more black poets and giving them significant amounts of space, in some cases more space than is given to better-known authors. These writers are included in some cases for their representative themes rather than their style. Dove is at pains to include angry outbursts as well as artistically ambitious meditations.

Multicultural inclusiveness prevails: some 175 poets are represented. No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value? Anthologists may now be extending a too general welcome. Selectivity has been condemned as "elitism," and a hundred flowers are invited to bloom. People who wouldn't be able to take on the long-term commitment of a novel find a longed-for release in writing a poem. And it seems rude to denigrate the heartfelt lines of people moved to verse. It is popular to say (and it is in part true) that in literary matters tastes differ, and that every critic can be wrong. But there is a certain objectivity bestowed by the mere passage of time, and its sifting of wheat from chaff: Which of Dove's 175 poets will have staying power, and which will seep back into the archives of sociology?

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Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


From the Fed, a Shield Against Europe (TYLER COWEN, 12/24/11, NY Times)

The Federal Reserve took the lead on future capital requirements just last week, but for the shorter run there is a more important Fed policy move. Starting in late 2008, as a response to our financial crisis, the Fed bought government and mortgage securities from banks on a very large scale.

Bank reserves at the Fed rose from virtually nothing to more than $1.6 trillion. Then the Fed paid interest on those reserves to help keep them on bank balance sheets.

It is estimated by Moody's that America's biggest banks now have liquid assets that are 3 to 11 times their short-term borrowings. In other words, it's the cushion we've been seeking. Furthermore, a lot of those reserves sit in the American subsidiaries of large foreign-owned banks, protecting the European system, too.

This new safety comes not from regulatory micromanagement but rather from the creation of additional safe interest-bearing assets. While European economies have been losing safe assets through debt downgrades, the United States financial system has been gaining them.

THE Fed's stockpiled liquid reserves have met some heavy criticism. Hard-money advocates contend that they are a prelude to hyperinflation -- although market forecasts and bond yields don't bear this out -- while proponents of monetary expansion have wished that banks would more actively lend out those reserves to stimulate the economy. That second view assumes that the financial crisis is essentially over, but maybe it's not. As the euro zone crisis continues, it seems that Ben S. Bernanke has been a smarter central banker than we had realized.

From an Administration with no shortage of great appointments, he may turn out to have been the best.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM

Garlicky Cashew Chicken (Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

From: "The Essential New York Times Cookbook" by The New York Times and Amanda Hesser

1 cup salted roasted cashews
6 tablespoons chopped cilantro, with some stems, divided
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, sliced (discard seeds or not, to taste)
Juice of 1 lime, plus lime wedges for serving
2 tablespoons water
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 pounds chicken thighs and/or drumsticks

Combine the nuts, 2 tablespoons cilantro, oil, garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, jalapeno, lime juice and water in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside 1/3 of the cashew mixture. Smear on enough of the remaining mixture to thoroughly coat the chicken. Let marinate at room temperature while you heat a grill or broiler. (Or refrigerate up to 12 hours before cooking.)

Grill or broil the chicken, turning frequently, until it is crisp and golden on the outside and done on the inside (cut a small nick to check), 20 to 30 minutes.

Sprinkle chicken with remaining cilantro and serve with lime wedges and the reserved cashew marinade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


The Future of History (Francis Fukuyama, January/February 2012, Foreign Affairs)

There is today a broad global consensus about the legitimacy, at least in principle, of liberal democracy. In the words of the economist Amartya Sen, "While democracy is not yet universally practiced, nor indeed uniformly accepted, in the general climate of world opinion, democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right." It is most broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity sufficient to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle class, which is why there tends to be a correlation between high levels of ­development and stable democracy.

Some societies, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, reject liberal democracy in favor of a form of Islamic theocracy. Yet these regimes are developmental dead ends, kept alive only because they sit atop vast pools of oil. There was at one time a large Arab exception to the third wave, but the Arab Spring has shown that Arab publics can be mobilized against dictatorship just as readily as those in Eastern Europe and Latin America were. This does not of course mean that the path to a well-functioning democracy will be easy or straightforward in Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya, but it does suggest that the desire for ­political freedom and participation is not a cultural peculiarity of Europeans and Americans.

The single most serious challenge to liberal democracy in the world today comes from China, which has combined authoritarian government with a partially marketized economy. China is heir to a long and proud tradition of high-quality bureaucratic government, one that stretches back over two millennia. Its leaders have managed a hugely complex transition from a centralized, Soviet-style planned economy to a dynamic open one and have done so with remarkable competence -- more competence, frankly, than U.S. leaders have shown in the management of their own macroeconomic policy recently. Many people currently admire the Chinese system not just for its economic record but also because it can make large, complex decisions quickly, compared with the agonizing policy paralysis that has struck both the United States and Europe in the past few years. Especially since the recent financial crisis, the Chinese themselves have begun touting the "China model" as an alternative to liberal democracy.

This model is unlikely to ever become a serious alternative to liberal democracy in regions outside East Asia, however. In the first place, the model is culturally specific: the Chinese government is built around a long tradition of meritocratic recruitment, civil service examinations, a high emphasis on education, and deference to technocratic authority. Few developing countries can hope to emulate this model; those that have, such as Singapore and South Korea (at least in an earlier period), were already within the Chinese cultural zone. The Chinese themselves are skeptical about whether their model can be exported; the so-called Beijing consensus is a Western invention, not a Chinese one.

It is also unclear whether the model can be sustained. Neither export-driven growth nor the top-down approach to decision-making will continue to yield good results forever. The fact that the Chinese government would not permit open discussion of the disastrous high-speed rail accident last summer and could not bring the Railway Ministry responsible for it to heel suggests that there are other time bombs hidden behind the façade of efficient decision-making.

Finally, China faces a great moral vulnerability down the road. The Chinese government does not force its officials to respect the basic dignity of its citizens. Every week, there are new protests about land seizures, environmental violations, or gross corruption on the part of some official. While the country is growing rapidly, these abuses can be swept under the carpet. But rapid growth will not continue forever, and the government will have to pay a price in pent-up anger. The regime no longer has any guiding ideal around which it is organized; it is run by a Communist Party supposedly committed to equality that presides over a society marked by dramatic and growing inequality.

So the stability of the Chinese system can in no way be taken for granted. The Chinese government argues that its ­citizens are culturally different and will always prefer benevolent, growth-promoting dictatorship to a messy democracy that threatens social stability. But it is unlikely that a spreading middle class will behave all that differently in China from the way it has behaved in other parts of the world. Other authoritarian regimes may be trying to emulate China's success, but there is little chance that much of the world will look like today's China 50 years down the road.

There is a broad correlation among economic growth, social change, and the hegemony of liberal democratic ideology in the world today. And at the moment, no plausible rival ideology looms. 

...when folks were assuring us that W was a fool for believing in the Arab yearning for democracy? Why, even Mr. Fukuyama blinked:

In "The Neoconservative Moment," Fukuyama turns a heat lamp on the cogitations of one thinker in particular, Charles Krauthammer, whose "strategic thinking has become emblematic" of the neo-conservative camp that envisaged the Iraq invasion. Krauthammer, one of the war's most vociferous advocates, had somewhat famously fancied the end of the cold war as a "unipolar moment" in geopolitics - which, by 2002, he was calling a "unipolar era." In February 2004 Krauthammer delivered an address at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington in which he offered a strident defense of the Iraq war in terms of his concept of unipolarity, or what he now calls "democratic realism."

Fukuyama was in the audience that evening and did not like what he heard.

Krauthammer's speech was "strangely disconnected from reality," Fukuyama wrote in "The Neoconservative Moment." "Reading Krauthammer, one gets the impression that the Iraq War - the archetypical application of American unipolarity - had been an unqualified success, with all of the assumptions and expectations on which the war had been based fully vindicated." "There is not the slightest nod" in Krauthammer's exposition "towards the new empirical facts" that have come to light over the course of the occupation.

Fukuyama's case against Krauthammer's - and thus the dominant neo-conservative - position on Iraq is manifold.

Krauthammer's logic, Fukuyama argues, is "utterly unrealistic in its overestimation of U.S. power and our ability to control events around the world." "Of all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the United States could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy," he wrote, "and to go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East."

This struck Fukuyama as strange, he explained, "precisely because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning...about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences." If the US can't eradicate poverty at home or improve its own education system, he asked, "how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?"

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Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Ben Nelson retiring from Senate (JOHN BRESNAHAN | 12/27/11 , Politico)

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska will announce today that he is retiring after two terms, a serious blow to Democratic efforts to hold on to their majority in the chamber next November. [...]

The 70-year-old Nelson was considered one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this cycle. GOP-affiliated outside groups have already dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads bashing Nelson, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent over $1 million on its own ad blitz to bolster his image.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Haredi violence in Beit Shemesh catches Israel's attention (Marcy Oster · December 27, 2011, JTA) 

For several years now, the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh has been the site of on-again, off-again religious violence.

But it wasn't until the plight of a fearful 8-year-old girl from a Modern Orthodox immigrant family from America was broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 over the weekend that the religious tensions in Beit Shemesh captured the nation's attention, including that of Israel's prime minister and its president.

In the broadcast, the girl, Na'ama Margolis, told a reporter that she is afraid to walk the 300 yards from her home to her Modern Orthodox girls' school for fear that the haredi Orthodox men who protest outside of the school will hurt her. Video showed Na'ama's mother encouraging her to walk the short way to school punctuated by the girl's whimpers and cries of "No, No."

Some haredi residents of Beit Shemesh, a suburb of some 80,000 people, are upset about the opening in September of a new Modern Orthodox girls' school, Orot, across the street from their neighborhood. Confrontations between haredi Orthodox activists and Modern Orthodox opposite the school have waxed and waned since the beginning of the school year, and often resulted in violence. 

Haredi protesters have thrown eggs and bags of excrement at the young girls and called them "sluts" and "shiksas." Haredi opponents of the school say the girls and their mothers dress immodestly, with sleeves and skirts that are not sufficiently long.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary  (JOSH POLTILOVE, 12/27/11, The Tampa Tribune)

Cheetah the chimpanzee, who acted in classic Tarzan movies in the early 1930s, died of kidney failure Saturday at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, a sanctuary spokeswoman said.

Cheetah was roughly 80 years old, loved fingerpainting and football and was soothed by nondenominational Christian music, said Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary's outreach director.

...than when 77 year old Maureen O'Sullivan explained to David Letterman that you could see the chain on Cheetah's leg in studio publicity photos of the Tarzan cast because otherwise he'd try sexually assaulting Johnny Weissmuller.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Adios, OPEC.: The Americas, Not the Middle East, Will Be the World Capital of Energy (AMY MYERS JAFFE, SEPT/OCT 2011, Foreign Policy)

For half a century, the global energy supply's center of gravity has been the Middle East. This fact has had self-evidently enormous implications for the world we live in -- and it's about to change.

By the 2020s, the capital of energy will likely have shifted back to the Western Hemisphere, where it was prior to the ascendancy of Middle Eastern megasuppliers such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the 1960s. The reasons for this shift are partly technological and partly political. Geologists have long known that the Americas are home to plentiful hydrocarbons trapped in hard-to-reach offshore deposits, on-land shale rock, oil sands, and heavy oil formations. The U.S. endowment of unconventional oil is more than 2 trillion barrels, with another 2.4 trillion in Canada and 2 trillion-plus in South America -- compared with conventional Middle Eastern and North African oil resources of 1.2 trillion. The problem was always how to unlock them economically.

But since the early 2000s, the energy industry has largely solved that problem. With the help of horizontal drilling and other innovations, shale gas production in the United States has skyrocketed from virtually nothing to 15 to 20 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply in less than a decade. By 2040, it could account for more than half of it. This tremendous change in volume has turned the conversation in the U.S. natural gas industry on its head; where Americans once fretted about meeting the country's natural gas needs, they now worry about finding potential buyers for the country's surplus.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Slowing Inflation Cheers Fed (JON HILSENRATH, 12/28/11, WSJ)

The slowdown has been apparent for months in some commodities. The price of copper is down 21% from a year earlier. Cotton is down 45%. Natural-gas prices continue to fall, and crude oil has retreated from peaks hit in April, though not as sharply as other commodities.

Now, more broadly, the Commerce Department's measure of consumer prices for November, released Friday, stood 2.5% above year-ago levels in November, down from year-over-year increases of 2.7% in October and 2.9% in September. A less volatile measure excluding food and energy, watched closely by the Fed, rose 1.7% from a year earlier.

Another closely tracked measure, the Labor Department's consumer-price index, has risen at a 0.8% annual rate in the past three months. [...]

Meanwhile, increases in labor costs remain muted. Hourly wages of private-sector U.S. workers were up 1.8% in November from a year earlier, before adjusting for inflation. And in the third quarter, overall labor costs for each unit of output produced by businesses outside farming--a measure that reflects both wages costs and productivity gains--were only 0.4% above year-earlier levels.

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December 27, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


TV Prices Fall, Squeezing Most Makers and Sellers (ANDREW MARTIN, 12/26/11, NY Times)

It's a great time to buy a television, and Ram Lall, a television salesman, isn't happy about it. In a basement showroom of J&R, the huge electronics store in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Lall says the days of making big money from televisions are in the past. Pointing to a top-of-the line, 55-inch Sony television, Mr. Lall said it would have sold for $6,000 a few years ago. The current price? $2,599.

"We are making less money because the company is forcing us to slash prices," Mr. Lall said, standing amid rows of flickering television sets.

Televisions have become so inexpensive that the profits have largely been squeezed out of them, a result of a huge increase in manufacturing capacity that has led to an oversupply and continued downward pressure on prices from low-cost manufacturers and online retailers.

The near fire-sale prices are great for consumers, who can now buy a television for a fraction of what one cost just a few years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Michigan City Turns Down Millions of Dollars, Saying Federal Money Is Not Free (JOHN SCHWARTZ, 1/22/11, NY Times)

In what could be a new high water mark of anti-Washington sentiment, the city of Troy, Mich., is rejecting a long-planned transportation center whose construction would have been fully financed with federal stimulus money.

The terminal, which would help Troy become a transportation node on an upgraded Detroit-to-Chicago Amtrak line, was hailed by supporters as a way to create jobs and to spur economic development. But federal money is federal money, so with the urging of the new mayor, who helped found the local Tea Party chapter, the City Council cast a 4-to-3 vote this week against granting a crucial contract, sending the project into limbo. [...]

Michigan's governor, Rick Snyder, a Republican, said through a spokeswoman that he was "disappointed" in the city's decision and would be "reviewing our options for utilizing the grant, including the potential transfer of the grant to another applicant." Mr. Snyder had sent a letter to Mayor Daniels before the vote saying that the project would have "significant, positive economic development on your community and the state."

The transit fight is not Mayor Daniels's first brush with controversy. Earlier this month, it was revealed that she posted a message to her Facebook page last June, after New York State approved same-sex marriage, stating, "I think I am going to throw away my I Love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there." In an interview, she said she regretted the online comment.

The vote on Monday, she said, is about setting an example concerning the national debt. "I want to leave a legacy for our children of managing our responsibilities -- not crushing them with debt money."

On Tuesday, an official of Magna International, a global automotive supplier based in Canada whose American headquarters are in Troy, expressed frustration with the City Council vote in a private e-mail to Ms. Hodges and others that was posted to a blog that favors the transit center.

"I am drafting a memo to all Magna group presidents and our Magna corporate executives strongly recommending that Magna International no longer consider the City of Troy for future site considerations, expansions or new job creation," wrote Frank W. Ervin III, the company's manager of government affairs. "I have also recommended that where ever and when ever possible we reduce our footprint and employment level in Troy" in favor of communities that act in the best interests of residents and business and that do "not simply use their public position to advance their own private agenda."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Whose Tea Party Is It? (THEDA SKOCPOL and VANESSA WILLIAMSON, 12/27/11, NY Times)

In recent weeks, Gingrich has reached out to these grassroots Tea Party voters, older white middle-class conservatives who remember him from his glory days as an insurgent Democrat slayer. Gingrich's aggressive style and blistering critiques of the Democrats resonate with Tea Party voters. Gingrich has accused Democrats of socialist tendencies for decades; as early as 1984, he claimed that a Democratic member of the House of Representatives was distributing "communist propaganda."

But Gingrich has also tapped into what we identified as Tea Partiers' most fundamental concern: their belief that hardworking American taxpayers are being forced to foot the bill for undeserving freeloaders, particularly immigrants, the poor and the young. Young people "just feel like they are entitled," one member of the Massachusetts Tea Party told us. A Virginia interviewee said that today's youth "have lost the value of work."

These views were occasionally tinged with ethnic stereotypes about immigrants "stealing" from tax-funded programs, or minorities with a "plantation mentality." When Gingrich talks about "inner-city" children having "no habits of working," he is appealing to a widely held sentiment among the Tea Party faithful. [...]

Tea Party activists are not uniformly opposed to government social programs, however. Our interviewees were very anxious that Social Security and Medicare be maintained. "I've been working since I was 16 years old, and I do feel like I should someday reap the benefit. I'm not looking for a handout. I'm looking for a pay out of what I paid into," one Tea Party member explained. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Taking a bite out of crime (Charles Lane, 12/27/11, Washington Post)

We are reaping a domestic peace dividend, and it can be measured in the precious coin of human life. Berkeley criminologist Franklin E. Zimring has found that the death rate for young men in New York today is half what it would have been if homicides had continued unabated.

The psychological payoff, too, is enormous. Only 38 percent of Americans say they fear walking alone at night within a mile of their homes, according to Gallup, down from 48 percent three decades ago. For my teenage son and his classmates, dread of crime is far less prevalent than it was in my generation. Indeed, other than showing him "Robocop," I don't know how to make my kid understand the anxieties we once took for granted.

Lower crime rates also mean one less source of political polarization. In August 1994, 52 percent of Americans told Gallup that crime was the most important issue facing the country; in November 2011, only 1 percent gave that answer. Think political debate is venomous now? Imagine if law and order were still a "wedge issue."

Did I mention the economic benefits? Safe downtowns draw more tourists for longer stays. Fewer car thefts mean lower auto insurance rates. Young people who don't get murdered grow up to produce goods and services.

Plunging crime rates also debunk conventional wisdom, left and right. Crime's continued decline during the Great Recession undercuts the liberal myth that hard times force people into illegal activity -- that, like the Jets in "West Side Story," crooks are depraved on account of being deprived. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The Year in Energy: Surprising successes helped offset disappointing failures in solar, biofuels, and nuclear power. (Kevin Bullis, 12/27/11, Technology Review)

Although thin-film CIGS solar cells haven't revolutionized the solar industry, advances in manufacturing and sheer scale have led to huge drops in the price of conventional silicon solar panels, making solar power more affordable. In 2011, average prices for solar panels dropped by almost 50 percent from 2010 levels, according to an estimate from GTM Research. Just three years ago, solar panels costs more than three times what they do now. Innovations introduced this year could lead to even lower prices. One technology, developed first at BP Solar but commercialized first in China, could cut the cost of making high-quality crystalline silicon in half. Other advances, such as Suntech's Pluto technology, which combines a number of innovations to produce a record-efficiency solar cell, and silicon ink from Innovalight, which increases power output by improving electrical connections, are being ramped up for large-scale production, promising to keep reducing the cost per watt of solar power. 

And while Solyndra died, other advanced thin-film manufacturers are making progress, including CIGS solar-panel manufacturer Solar Frontier, which opened a huge, 1,000-megawatt factory in Japan. Researchers are continuing to push solar-cell technology forward. A startup called Alta Devices, based in Santa Clara, California, has built world-record solar cells from thin-film gallium arsenide.

There's also some good news for advanced biofuels. The startup Amyris started producing chemicals from sugarcane. Three advanced-biofuels companies began construction on commercial ethanol plants in the United States, and another, Mascoma, announced that it has raised all the funding it needs to build one starting early next year. Meanwhile, startups continue to develop new ways to convert biomass and other abundant sources into fuels--including some that can directly replace gasoline or jet fuel.

While progress is slow on nuclear power in the United States, novel technology for small, modular reactors appears to be getting traction. 

Batteries remain expensive, but early-stage technical advances could change that. One company hopes to eliminate liquid electrolytes and much of the supporting material in a battery. Such efforts could double batteries' energy storage capacity and greatly expand the possibilities of electric vehicles. Another demonstrated a prototype that could cut the cost of batteries in half. Advances in fuel cells that efficiently convert energy in fuels such as gasoline to electricity could help increase the range of electric cars, making them more practical.

If new battery technologies don't work, maybe the model developed by Better Place will. The company, which has received more than its fair share of media attention for its idea of selling cars and miles the way cellular carriers sell phones and minutes, has now actually built something. It's nearly finished an Israeli network of charging stations and robotic battery-swap stations that will eliminate the "range anxiety" now limiting the appeal of electric cars--the fear of depleting your battery before you reach your destination. It could also help make electric vehicles more affordable, since drivers don't have to buy the car's battery.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Dive bomb bird in the hand: Cop-hating pigeon tamed (PHILIP MESSING, December 26, 2011, NY Post)

Fred the pigeon, whose hobby was dive-bombing cops and dropping unwanted gifts on tourists at the 9/11 Memorial, has been taken in by an opera singer who is teaching him to change his tune and fly right.

Jennifer Dudley, a mezzo-soprano who has worked at the Metropolitan and City operas and moonlights as a wildlife rehabilitator, grabbed Fred last week after realizing he was suffering from the early stages of a serious bird disease.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Ron Paul's House record marked by bold strokes, and futility (David A. Fahrenthold, 11/27/11, Washington Post)

The passage of H.R. 2121, in fall 2009, unfolded without drama. It allowed for the sale of a customhouse in Galveston, Tex. The House debate took two minutes, and the vote took eight seconds. The ayes had it.

But something historic was happening. On his 482nd try, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) had authored a bill that would become law.

Paul has become a surprising force in the Republican presidential race, promising to use "the bully pulpit of the presidency" to demand deep cutbacks across government. But Paul has had only limited success using his current pulpit -- a seat in Congress -- to rally lawmakers behind his ideas.

Of the 620 measures that Paul has sponsored, just four have made it to a vote on the House floor. Only that one has been signed into law.

House colleagues say the genial Paul has often shown little interest in the laborious one-on-one lobbying required to build a coalition behind his ideas. This year, for instance, Paul has sponsored 47 bills, including measures to withdraw from the United Nations, repeal the federal law banning guns in school zones and let private groups coin their own money.

None has moved, and 32 have failed to attract a single co-sponsor.

Not that futility is a negative to Libertarians. It enables them to see themselves as lonely heroes.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Protesters flood Moscow demanding reforms (Michael Birnbaum, 12/24/11, Washington Post)

. The demonstrators have ranged from stylish young clubgoers to diminutive pensioners, all of whose lives were fundamentally transformed 20 years ago Sunday when the Soviet Union came to an end.

Now they are seeking another shake-up, as the torrent of social, economic and political forces that came after the hammer and sickle was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time has left the country traveling a current that is frustrating to many.

"We want to live in a free country," said Timur Khutseev, 23, a theater aide who shivered in the freezing Moscow weather. "Our parents grew up under [Leonid] Brezhnev," whose 18-year reign over the Soviet Union became a synonym for stagnation and repression. Putin, too, is seeking to extend his era to 18 years in March presidential elections. "We don't want that," Khutseev said.

The rally exceeded the size of one held two weeks ago, whose scale surprised even the organizers. On Saturday, they estimated, 120,000 people protested in temperatures that were in the teens. The Interior Ministry put the number at 29,000.

The challenge for organizers will be keeping up the fight. The movement's strengths and weaknesses were on display Saturday, as many of the young, middle-class people who have been the driving force behind the sudden show of discontent this month said they remained cautious about politics in general even as they thought the country needed to change. of Russia's biggest problems is the absence of middle class youth.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


$1 Trillion in Defense Cuts? Big Deal. (DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, December 21, 2011, US News)

 Numbers released by from the Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that researches global security issues, shows how so-called "builddowns" in spending from recent conflicts do not compare to reductions associated with previous wars.

The figures include the roughly $450 billion in defense spending cuts associated with this year's budget legislation, but do not reflect the additional $600 billion associated with sequestration. Still, by this measure, sequestration cuts would not put defense spending in lean territory.

The shallow trajectory associated with the current builddown is an indication that Panetta's fears are overblown, says Gordon Adams, a professor at the School of International Service at American University and a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center.

"You get some version of this every time you get a builddown," says Adams, who oversaw defense budget planning in the Bill Clinton White House. "For me all the hairpulling and rending of garments is a bit excessive, given the slope that we're on."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


China's criticism of U.S. policy turns personal (Andrew Higgins, 12/22/11, Washington Post)

Now it's getting personal. After months of sniping at American policy, China has turned its fire on Washington's senior diplomat in this former British colony.

In an unusual public rebuke, the Hong Kong branch of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused U.S. Consul General Stephen Young of breaching diplomatic norms and ignoring "solemn warnings" to keep quiet about democracy in the region, which since 1997 has been part of China.

The scolding by China's top diplomat here follows a series of articles in Communist Party-controlled media denouncing Young -- who served in Kyrgyzstan during a democratic uprising there in 2005 -- as part of an American plot to spread disorder and keep China down.

"Wherever he goes, there is trouble and so-called color revolution," said Wen Wei Po, a pillar of the party's still mostly secret political apparatus in Hong Kong. The paper described Young -- the son of an Army officer who fought in Korea and Vietnam and served as a military adviser in Taiwan -- as coming from "an anti-China, anti-communist family."

Wherever we go.  And we go everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Leaf, Volt tests show electric cars cost less per mile to operate (Eric Evarts, Dec 8, 2011, Consumer Reports)

Electric cars may cost more to buy, but they're really cheap to run, according to our tests of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf.

The pure electric Nissan Leaf costs just 3.5 cents a mile based on the national average of 11 cents/kWh of electricity. That's less than half of what it costs to drive the most fuel-efficient four-door car we've tested, the Toyota Prius.  [...]

In miles-per-gallon terms, we found the Leaf gets the energy equivalent of 106 mpg, based on efficiency of 3.16 miles per kilowatt-hour of electricity. If you charge it at national average electric rates of 11 cents per kilowatt hour, you'll pay about $2.42 to charge the car. (Admittedly, electric rates at our test track in rural Connecticut are almost double that: 19 cents per kWh. Along with New York, Connecticut has the highest rates of any state in the continental United States. But even at that rate, the Leaf costs about 20-percent less than the Prius to operate and about half the cost of the Corolla.)

As today's technologies improve, prices decrease, and new plug-in cars are developed, EVs and hybrids will offer an increasingly attractive option for car buyers. And already, in terms of pure energy costs, the balance is in their favor. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Disgrace: On Marc Hauser (Charles Gross, December 21, 2011, The Nation)

In the summer of 2007, while the scientist Marc Hauser was in Australia, Harvard University authorities entered his lab on the tenth floor of William James Hall, seizing computers, videotapes, unpublished manuscripts and notes. Hauser, then 47, was a professor of psychology, organismic and evolutionary biology, and biological anthropology. He was popular with students and a prolific researcher and author, with more than 200 papers and several books to his name. His most recent book, Moral Minds (2006), discusses the biological bases of human morality. Noam Chomsky called it "a lucid, expert, and challenging introduction to a rapidly developing field with great promise and far-reaching implications"; for Peter Singer, it is "a major contribution to an ongoing debate about the nature of ethics." [...]

The beginning of the inquiry leading to Harvard's 2007 investigation of Hauser was triggered by a delegation of three researchers in his lab. We know almost nothing from Hauser's or Harvard's statements about the nature of the students' charges. However, an article by Tom Bartlett published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in August 2010 offers a glimpse into Hauser's lab. It is based on a document provided to Bartlett, on condition of anonymity, by a former research assistant of Hauser's. The document, Bartlett writes, "is the statement the research assistant gave to Harvard investigators in 2007." As he explains, "one experiment in particular [had] led members of Mr. Hauser's lab to become suspicious of his research and, in the end, to report their concerns about the professor to Harvard administrators."

This experiment used a standard method in child and animal studies: a sound pattern is played repeatedly over a sound system and then changed, and if the animal then looks at the sound speaker the implication is that the animal noticed the change. In Hauser's experiment, three tones (in a pattern like A-B-A) were played by the lab assistants. After the monkeys repeatedly heard this pattern, the scientists would modify it and observe if the monkeys had noticed the change in the sound pattern. Pattern recognition of this sort is considered to be a component of language acquisition.

The monkey's behavior was videotaped and later "coded blind"--that is, the experimenters, without knowing which sound was being played, judged whether the monkey was looking at the speaker. When coding is done blind and independently by two observers, and the two sets of observations match closely, the results are assumed to be reliable.

Bartlett went on to explain that, according to the document that had been provided by the research assistant,

the experiment in question was coded by Mr. Hauser and a research assistant in his laboratory. A second research assistant was asked by Mr. Hauser to analyze the results. When the second research assistant analyzed the first research assistant's codes, he found that the monkeys didn't seem to notice the change in pattern. In fact, they looked at the speaker more often when the pattern was the same. In other words, the experiment was a bust.

But Mr. Hauser's coding showed something else entirely: He found that the monkeys did notice the change in pattern--and, according to his numbers, the results were statistically significant. If his coding was right, the experiment was a big success.

The second research assistant was bothered by the discrepancy. How could two researchers watching the same videotapes arrive at such different conclusions? He suggested to Mr. Hauser that a third researcher should code the results. In an e-mail message to Mr. Hauser, a copy of which was provided to The Chronicle, the research assistant who analyzed the numbers explained his concern. "I don't feel comfortable analyzing results/publishing data with that kind of skew until we can verify that with a third coder," he wrote.

A graduate student agreed with the research assistant and joined him in pressing Mr. Hauser to allow the results to be checked, the document given to The Chronicle indicates. But Mr. Hauser resisted, repeatedly arguing against having a third researcher code the videotapes and writing that they should simply go with the data as he had already coded it. After several back-and-forths, it became plain that the professor was annoyed.

"i am getting a bit pissed here," Mr. Hauser wrote in an e-mail to one research assistant. "there were no inconsistencies! let me repeat what happened. i coded everything. Then [a research assistant] coded all the trials highlighted in yellow. we only had one trial that didn't agree. i then mistakenly told [another research assistant] to look at column B when he should have looked at column D.... we need to resolve this because I am not sure why we are going in circles."

According to the document provided to the Chronicle, the graduate student and the research assistant who analyzed the data decided to re-examine the tapes without notifying Hauser. They coded the results without consulting with each other, and both sets of data showed that the monkeys didn't seem to react to the change in patterns. When they then reviewed Hauser's results, they found that what he had recorded "bore little relation" to what they had seen on the videotapes. The two did not think the issue was a matter of differing interpretations. As Bartlett put it, they thought Hauser's data were "just completely wrong." As news of their experience spread around the lab, according to the document, other lab members indicated they too had experienced episodes in which Hauser "reported false data and then insisted that it be used."

Several other people who had worked in Hauser's lab during the period he produced the research investigated by Harvard, and who have asked to remain unnamed, confirmed for me the account offered by the Chronicle and provided further details and examples of the general pattern of Hauser fabricating and falsifying data and pressuring others, particularly undergraduates and other junior members of the lab, to do the same to obtain the desired results. Eventually, three researchers in the lab presented evidence to the university's ombudsman and then to the dean's office, prompting the inquiry that led to the formal investigation.

...if you don't fake some evidence?
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Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Europe Cries Wolf, Britain Calls Its Bluff: David Cameron's veto of Europe's proposed fiscal union does not spell doom for the U.K. Quite the contrary. (ANDREW ROBERTS, 12/27/11, WSJ)

The mistake that the liberal media constantly make, especially for some reason in America, is assuming that when Britons are isolated in Europe, they are also uncomfortable. Yet since the 16th century it has almost always been precisely when she was most isolated that she was later proved most right. And whereas President Sarcastic--does he have any other form of address when talking to opponents?--is currently the least popular president of France in the history of the Fifth Republic, Mr. Cameron saw his Conservative Party overtake Labour in approval ratings after he exercised the veto.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has written a superb biography of William Pitt the Younger, whose most famous and effective speech comprised one sentence during the Napoleonic Wars: "England has saved herself by her example and will, I trust, save Europe by her example." King George VI actually rejoiced after the fall of France, writing in his diary 1940: "Personally, I feel happier that we have no allies to be polite to and pamper." That is the true voice of Britons, and one that David Cameron has articulated superbly.
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December 26, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Paul Disowns Extremists' Views but Doesn't Disavow the Support (JIM RUTENBERG and SERGE F. KOVALESKI, 12/25/11, NY Times)

The American Free Press, which markets books like "The Invention of the Jewish People" and "March of the Titans: A History of the White Race," is urging its subscribers to help it send hundreds of copies of Ron Paul's collected speeches to voters in New Hampshire. The book, it promises, will "Help Dr. Ron Paul Win the G.O.P. Nomination in 2012!"

Don Black, director of the white nationalist Web site Stormfront, said in an interview that several dozen of his members were volunteering for Mr. Paul's presidential campaign, and a site forum titled "Why is Ron Paul such a favorite here?" has no fewer than 24 pages of comments. "I understand he wins many fans because his monetary policy would hurt Jews," read one.

Far-right groups like the Militia of Montana say they are rooting for Mr. Paul as a stalwart against government tyranny.

Mr. Paul's surprising surge in polls is creating excitement within a part of his political base that has been behind him for decades but overshadowed by his newer fans on college campuses and in some liberal precincts who are taken with his antiwar, anti-drug-laws messages. [...]

The libertarian movement in American politics has long had two overlapping but distinct strains. One, backed to some degree by wealthy interests, is focused largely on economic freedom and dedicated to reducing taxes and regulation through smaller government. The other is more focused on personal liberty and constraints on government built into the Constitution, which at its extreme has helped fuel militant antigovernment sentiment.

Mr. Paul has operated at the nexus of the two, often espousing positions at odds with most of the Republican Party but assembling a diverse and loyal following attracted by his adherence to libertarian principles.

Mr. Paul's calls for the end of the Federal Reserve system, a cessation of aid to Israel and all other nations and an overall diminishment of government power have natural appeal among far-right, niche political groups.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Obama: The conservative in 2012 (E.J. Dionne Jr., 12/26/11, Washington Post)

For the first time since Barry Goldwater made the effort in 1964, the Republican Party is taking a run at overturning the consensus that has governed U.S. political life since the Progressive era.

Obama is defending a tradition that sees government as an essential actor in the nation's economy, a guarantor of fair rules of competition, a countervailing force against excessive private power, a check on the inequalities that capitalism can produce, and an instrument that can open opportunity for those born without great advantages.

Today's Republicans cast the federal government as an oppressive force, a drag on the economy and an enemy of private initiative. Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to promise, as he did last week during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, to be a president who would make "Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as he can make it." That far-reaching word "inconsequential" implies a lot more than trims in budgets or taxes.

The GOP is engaged in a wholesale effort to redefine the government help that Americans take for granted as an effort to create a radically new, statist society. Consider Romney's claim in his Bedford speech: "President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing -- the government."

The candidates have fallen into the sort of End it Don't Mend It nonsense that makes them seem repealers rather than reformers.  But the winner can easily pivot back to running as a governor.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Obama Succeeds Abroad When He Follows Bush, Clinton (Michael Barone, 12/26/11, Real Clear Politics)

In his first years as president, Obama brusquely rejected the emphasis on human rights that was, in varying proportions, the part of the foreign policy of every president from Jimmy Carter to the second Bush. After all, if it was Bush's policy, it was bad.

So he coldly ignored the Green movement against Iran's mullahs in June 2009, and he only hesitantly has expressed sympathy with what we at least used to call the Arab Spring.

But the mullahs have shown no more fellow feeling for the first black president than for the third Texas president or his four predecessors.

Our lack of engagement with the Arab Spring movement has reduced our leverage in the region. So has our sudden and abrupt withdrawal from Iraq, against military (but perhaps in accord with political) advice.

Where Obama has done better is in regions where he has followed the trajectory of Bush's (and in some cases Bill Clinton's) policies.

In Africa, he has continued Bush's widely successful campaign to eradicate AIDS. But there are signs that in some African countries Bush is more popular than the president whose father was a citizen of Kenya.

In Asia, once you get east of the horrifying conundrum of Pakistan, Obama has built alliances, formal and informal, with the major countries ringing China. Foreign policy analyst Walter Russell Mead hails the recent and first trilateral talks between the U.S., Japan and India as "history made."

Obama has built on our rapprochement with India, started gingerly by Clinton and continued with gusto by Bush. Suddenly China finds itself surrounded by nations, including South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and, maybe, Burma, resisting its expansionist thrusts. Japan is buying F-35s, and Australia has agreed to host U.S. troops.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Health insurers slow rise in fees: Providers accepting moderate increases (Robert Weisman, December 26, 2011, Boston Globe)

Insurance companies also are offering customers, including employers and government groups, new programs ranging from wellness incentives at Tufts Health Plan to a Harvard Pilgrim Health Care service that rewards members for getting tests at lower-cost providers. Most important has been the growth of limited network plans that restrict where patients can get care and tiered networks higher payments for costlier providers.

"If you can choose a physician who is tops in quality and good on cost, it's a good choice,'' said James Roosevelt Jr., chief executive of Tufts Health Plan in Watertown, where every employee, including Roosevelt, will switch to a tiered plan Jan. 1.

But critics say the moves do not go far enough to ease the burden on cash-strapped small businesses and municipalities, which struggle to pay health insurance premiums that have climbed at double-digit rates for most of the past decade. They also say this year's more modest reimbursement increases were largely driven by a decline in the use of medical care, and to employers shifting some insurance costs to their workers through higher copayments and deductibles.

December 25, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


At Harvard, a Master's in Problem Solving (JODI KANTOR, 12/24/11, NY Times)

From 1971 to 1975, he simultaneously earned business and law degrees from Harvard.

When he arrived, he was the son of a Republican luminary -- George W. Romney, who had run the American Motors Corporation before becoming governor of Michigan -- who was still insecure about his own talents, according to family members, former classmates and professors. When he graduated, he was an academic star and a hot recruit, convinced he could play on a bigger field than he had previously dreamed. He had found two new homes: in Massachusetts, a state he would eventually govern, and in finance, a field he would eventually help shape.

Those years also help illuminate who Mr. Romney is now: a Republican candidate for president accused of having no core convictions, a once-moderate governor suspected of tailoring his views for political expediency. Nearly four decades ago at Harvard, Mr. Romney embraced an analytical, nonideological way of thinking, say former classmates and professors, one that both matched his own instincts and helped him succeed. On a campus ripe with political and social ferment, he willfully distanced himself not only from politics, but also from larger ideological frameworks and heated debates.

Eager, driven and tremendously hardworking, he mastered the Harvard Business School method of literally looking at the world on a case-by-case basis, approaching each problem completely on its own terms and making recommendations based on data.

In the classrooms where Mr. Romney distinguished himself, there were no "right" answers -- no right questions even, just a daily search for how to improve results. The Mitt Romney classmates knew then was a gifted fix-it man, attuned to the particulars of every situation he examined and eager to deliver what customers wanted.

"Mitt never struck me as an ideologue outside matters involving church and family," said Howard Brownstein, a classmate. "He is a relativist, a pragmatist and a problem solver."

Not exactly what the base is looking for.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Winning the war on Christmas (Lorne Gunter  Dec 25, 2011, National Post)

Despite the best efforts of radical atheists, secular humanists and the legions of the politically correct, Christmas has managed to survive. After more than two decades of frontal assaults on Christmas designed to expunge references to the holiday from public spaces, nearly three-quarters of Canadians told Ipsos-Reid pollsters last week that they view this as the Christmas season, not the "holiday season," and they wish one another "merry Christmas," rather than the more generic, "happy holidays." And while it's purely anecdotal, I've noticed more store clerks, more receptionists, letter carriers and strangers in the street offering Christmas greetings.

Not surprisingly, the sense that this is Christmas, and worth preserving, is highest among middle-aged and older Canadians. Among those 35 to 54 years old, 73% see this as the Christmas season, while among those 55 and older, 80% share that view. The sentiment is even catching on among younger Canadians in hearteningly solid numbers. Two-thirds of those aged 18 to 34 prefer the Christmas term, up a startling 10 percentage points from 2010.

It's the Anglosphere, silly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


The God-Haunted Atheism of Christopher Hitchens (Francis J. Beckwith, 12/23/11, Catholic Thing)

[H]itchens writes that he and other atheists "believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion," thus implying that he and others have direct and incorrigible acquaintance with a natural moral law that informs their judgments about what counts as an ethical life.

But to speak of a natural moral law - a set of abstract, immaterial, unchanging principles of human conduct that apply to all persons in all times and in all places - seems oddly out of place in the universe that Hitchens claimed we occupy, a universe that is at bottom a purposeless vortex of matter, energy, and scientific laws that eventually spit out human beings. 

December 24, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


 The Good Old Yule Log Spreads To HDTV (SERRI GRASLIE, 12/24/11, NPR)

When yule log first aired in 1966, it was a huge hit with New Yorkers -- many of whom didn't have a fireplace. Lawrence "Chip" Arcuri vividly remembers the first time he saw it. It was 1972 and his family had just moved to New Jersey. They found the program on television by accident.

"We have the fireplace on one side of the family room blazing away in full color and vigor and then on the other side of the family room, the TV would be blazing away with the yule log," Arcuri says. "And we probably watched the TV more than the real fireplace." [...]

The WPIX yule log has consistently been a ratings hit, but it probably won't ever be released on DVD.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Not that there's ever a bad time to be an American, but a year that has seen such an explosion of liberalization across previously benighted portions of the globe was especially heartwarming.  The relentless spread of our Judeo-Christian values--democracy, capitalism, protestantism--is the Anglosphere's great gift to the world and it is always the season for giving.  

Meanwhile, we'd like to thank all of you for the joy that your participation in this community brings to us.

May you all have a healthy and happy Christmas and a splendid 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


How Luther went viral: Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation (The Economist, Dec 17th 2011)

IT IS a familiar-sounding tale: after decades of simmering discontent a new form of media gives opponents of an authoritarian regime a way to express their views, register their solidarity and co-ordinate their actions. The protesters' message spreads virally through social networks, making it impossible to suppress and highlighting the extent of public support for revolution. The combination of improved publishing technology and social networks is a catalyst for social change where previous efforts had failed.

That's what happened in the Arab spring. It's also what happened during the Reformation, nearly 500 years ago, when Martin Luther and his allies took the new media of their day--pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts--and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.

Scholars have long debated the relative importance of printed media, oral transmission and images in rallying popular support for the Reformation. Some have championed the central role of printing, a relatively new technology at the time. Opponents of this view emphasise the importance of preaching and other forms of oral transmission. More recently historians have highlighted the role of media as a means of social signalling and co-ordinating public opinion in the Reformation.

Now the internet offers a new perspective on this long-running debate, namely that the important factor was not the printing press itself (which had been around since the 1450s), but the wider system of media sharing along social networks--what is called "social media" today. Luther, like the Arab revolutionaries, grasped the dynamics of this new media environment very quickly, and saw how it could spread his message.

The medium changes; the message stays the same.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Why democracy blossomed: Look to the Arab Spring, which led the way (Steve Chapman, December 22, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

Muslims in the Middle East, which had been markedly resistant to the spread of liberty, were responsible for the year's most momentous human rights development. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia last December when a young produce vendor set himself on fire after being abused by police. His act sparked a mass uprising that on Jan. 14 induced tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country.

Egyptians took to the streets chanting a slogan borrowed from Tunisia: "The people want the fall of the regime." Soon Mubarak was gone, making way for November elections. But before year's end, crowds returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding that the military relinquish its remaining control.

Not all Arab rulers submitted to demands for change. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi fought for months to suppress an armed revolt assisted by NATO, only to be captured and unceremoniously killed.

Syria's Bashar Assad was more successful in his savagery, slaughtering some 5,000 constituents dissatisfied with his rule. The Arab League surprised him and the rest of the world by imposing sanctions.

Osama bin Laden died as he was simultaneously losing the military war with the United States and the political battle for the favor of Muslims the world over. The Economist magazine noted that "the most striking feature of the Arab Spring remains the complete failure of violently radical Islam."

After decades of almost universal autocracy, Africa has experienced some 30 democratic transfers of power since 1991. In September, Zambian President Rupiah Banda lost at the polls and calmly stepped down. Nigerians re-elected President Goodluck Jonathan in a contest "largely free of the fraud, ballot-stealing and violence that have plagued elections since the country's return to democracy 12 years ago," according to The New York Times.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to restore calm after a civil war, and then won an election boycotted by the opposition but praised by outside monitors. Laurent Gbagbo, whose forces killed thousands after he refused to accept his electoral defeat in Ivory Coast last year, is in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

Even the Smart folks have stopped assuring us Stupid ones that Arabs, Asians and Africans are uniquely unsuited to democracy and that History has no End.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


The Thirteen Blogs of Christmas: 2011 (Walter Russell Mead, 12/24/11, American Interest)

In the old days people kept a Yule log burning during the holiday season; I'll be trying the modern cyber equivalent this Christmas with a Yule blog. From now until January 6, I'll be Yule-blogging: reflecting on Christmas in ways that I hope will make sense to Christians and non-Christians alike.

The meaning of Christmas is much bigger than the trite clichés that usually come up in this context; I won't just be writing about the Importance of Giving and the Desirability of Being Nice. Christmas, at least the way I was taught, is a lot more than a merry interlude in the darkest, nastiest time of the year. It is more than getting or even giving. It is more than carols and candy, more than wonderful meals with the people you love best in the world. It is much more than the modern echo of the pagan festivities marking the winter solstice and the moment when the sun begins to reverse its long and slippery slide down the sky.

For Christians, 78% of the American people according to a recent Gallup poll, Christmas is the hinge of the world's fate, the turning point of life. It is the most important thing that ever happened, and we celebrate it every year because it is still happening now. Whether we know it or not, whether we appreciate it or not, we are part of the Christmas Event that has turned history upside down. There's a reason why we date the birth of Christ as the year 1 and why traditionally the world's history was divided into BC, before Christ, and AD, anno domini, the year of the Lord.. (Actually, the monk who tried to calculate it seems to have gotten it wrong; Jesus was probably born four to six years "BC". He also did not know about the use of zero as a number; there is no Year Zero between AD and BC -- which is why irritating pedants remind people at every turn of the century that the "real" new century or millennium doesn't begin until 2001, for example, rather than on January 1, 2000.)

Non-Christians, including the 9% of Americans who adhere to a non-Christian religion and the 15% who claim no religion at all, need to know about Christianity too. Religious education has pretty much fallen by the wayside in American life today. That's a problem in more ways than one; I see the consequences all the time when students I teach - and policy makers and journalists I know - simply do not comprehend the cultural foundations of American politics and cannot understand the ways that so many people here and around the world are moved by religious values and ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio,' from Carnegie Hall (NPR, December 21, 2007 from WNYC)

From Carnegie Hall in New York City, NPR and WNYC present selections from one of the most joyful and sumptuous works of Johann Sebastian Bach, recorded live in concert.

The Collegiate Chorale performs three of six sacred cantatas, each depicting a different scene from Christ's birth, and known collectively as the "Weihnachts-Oratorium," or Christmas Oratorio. The group also rounds out the performance with some traditional holiday favorites.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 AM


Jewish music gets hipster touch (MICHELLE BOORSTEIN

Thousands of music lovers are expected to attend Hanukkah parties worldwide Saturday night, marking the Jewish holiday by dancing to klezmer-punk, hip-hop in Arabic and folk-rock tunes such as Applesauce vs. Sour Cream, a campy song about condiments for latkes, a potato pancake that is a Hanukkah staple.

The parties are being put on by JDub Records, a Jewish label. The Eight, JDub's name for the multicity event, is expected to be the biggest contemporary Hanukkah music happening in North America, drawing about 7,000 people. Cities were still being added even this week and listed on Miami is included.

The Jewish music industry has flourished over the past decade and uses Hanukkah, a minor religious holiday that began Tuesday night at sundown, as a time to party.

The movement that some call ''new Jewish music'' uses sounds and lyrics from the Jewish world present and past. Three labels have started since 1995, including JDub, which opened in 2002 and produced Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu and the rock band LeeVees, composed of Jewish members of better-known bands and has sold over 10,000 copies of its 2006 album, Hanukkah Rocks.

While the industry and shows go on all year for such bands, Hanukkah is a key time in the United States because of the Christmas-driven party season.

Hard to describe America's influence better than: the Jewish music industry depends on Christmas.

[originally posted: 12/08/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 AM

[originally posted: 12/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 AM


What is Chanukah? (Paul Greenberg, Dec 25, 2005, Townhall)

The blessing over the candles recited each night of the holiday goes: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old."

Miracles, not victories. As in the Exodus from Egypt, it is He who delivered us. Freedom is a gift from God, not men.

Chanukah isn't mentioned in the Old Testament. The swashbuckling stories of battles and victories have been relegated to the Apocrypha. A mere military victory rates only a secondary place in the canon. The victory is to be celebrated not for its own sake but for what it reveals.

One more violent confrontation has been lifted out of history, and enters the realm of the sacred. A messy little guerrilla war in the dim past of a forgotten empire has become something else, something that partakes of the eternal.

The central metaphor of all religious belief - revealing light - now blots out all the imperial intrigues and internecine warfare. And that may be the greatest miracle of Chanukah: the transformation of that oldest and darkest of human activities, war, into a feast of illumination.

From a purely parochial American perspective, the best thing about Jewish holidays is that Jews were repressed for so long that the celebrations all heavily emphasize the idea of freedom.

(Originally posted: 12/25/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 AM


Yule log telecast lights fire of New York viewers (AP, December 28, 2002)
A TV broadcast of logs burning in a fireplace to a Christmas carol soundtrack burned up the ratings this year. The uninterrupted two-hour Christmas morning broadcast of the ''Yule Log Christmas Special,'' a holiday tradition for hearthless New Yorkers, returned to the air in 2001 after a 12-year hiatus. Wednesday's showing, from 9 to 11 a.m., boasted 284,012 viewing households, a 26 percent boost in viewership compared with last year, WPIX-Channel 11 said. It smoked the 1 p.m. airing of the 1951 classic film version of Charles Dickens' ''A Christmas Carol,'' starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, by 29,000 households. The rather bizarre Christmas tradition also burned up the airwaves every year from 1966 to 1989.
For a third of a century, the Brothers have been at war over the Yule Log, with the philistine claiming it's a 10 second tape loop repeated over and over and I stubbornly maintaining it was originally a live broadcast. I deeply resent the term "bizarre" in this un-American, borderline-fascistic story. [originally posted: 2002-12-28]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


Yule Log, Christmas Tradition on New York TV, Is Going National (Bloomberg, 12/22/05)

This is the year Kevin Tietjen, a New York City native living in Connecticut, plans to introduce his 5-year-old son to a Christmas tradition from his childhood: opening presents in the glow of a crackling fire beamed into homes by television station WPIX.

``You turned this thing on, they had Christmas carols playing in the background,'' remembers Tietjen, 38, a risk consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP in New York. ``And because we didn't have a fireplace, the whole concept of the Yule Log was pretty cool.'' [...]

Last year's four-hour broadcast drew a bigger audience than WNBC's Christmas mass at Washington National Cathedral, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research.

Success has spawned knock-offs. More than half a dozen DVD imitators, such as ``The Happy Holiday Hearth,'' are sold on In Demand Networks, a high-definition cable broadcaster owned by Cox Enterprises Inc., Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc., will air an eight-hour broadcast of a digitally enhanced fireplace on its INHD2 network.

WPIX also has a high-definition version of its log that will air in the New York area on Cablevision System Corp.'s channel 711 and on Comcast's channel 235. Local stations in Dallas and New Orleans will broadcast the original as will Tribune's Superstation WGN, which reaches more than 66 million U.S. homes through cable and satellite services.

Christmas classics (LA Times, December 25, 2005)
BIOLOGISTS USE THE WORD "zeitgeber" to describe a physical stimulus that kicks the biological clock into gear. For example, light streaming through the window in the morning and birdsong are zeitgebers signaling that it's time to wake up.

Scientists haven't devoted a lot of attention to the role of zeitgebers in stimulating holiday cheer, gift buying and goodwill toward men. In some climes, it's probably connected to frosty windowpanes and snowy rooftops. In L.A., it may be the first appearance of Santas in shopping malls, or those giant, flashy decorations they string across Hollywood Boulevard every year. But for people across the nation, a prime signal that the holidays are approaching is the reappearance of classic Christmas movies and TV shows, many of which we've enjoyed since childhood and have seen so many times we can recite the dialogue by heart.

Here are a few of our favorite snippets. May they stimulate peace, comfort, joy and a very Merry Christmas to all.

Nothing can top It's a Wonderful Life and The Yule Log, but a newer and already beloved tradition is Turner's 24 hours of A Christmas Story.

(Originally posted: 12/25/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:36 AM


Poll: 19 of 20 Americans observe Christmas (UPI, 12/24/10)

Nineteen of 20 U.S. residents celebrate Christmas, including 80 percent of non-Christians, a Gallup Poll released Friday indicated.

The percentage of people who celebrate the holiday has stayed almost the same since 1994 but the share who describe it as a "strongly religious" one has increased, the poll showed. A majority of those surveyed said their celebrations include religious activities, with 62 percent going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, 65 percent including religious symbols in their decorations and 78 percent saying they take some time to reflect on Christ's birth.

...the idea of a God who is so anxious to comprehend Creation that He chooses to live and die as a man is so compelling, how can you help but reflect upon it?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 AM


Piano Jazz: 2007 Christmas Special (Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, December 14, 2007)

"Let it Snow" -- George Shearing (piano), McPartland (piano)

"Snowfall" -- George Shearing (piano)

"I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" -- Tony DeSare (piano, vocals)

"Improvisations on the 12 Days of Christmas" -- Carli Munoz (piano)

"First Snow" -- Robin Meloy Goldsby (piano)

"Joy To The World" -- Mimi Fox (guitar), McPartland (piano), Gary Mazzaroppi (bass)

"Christmas Song" -- Amina Figarova (piano)

"Tu Scendi Delle Stelle" -- Stefano Bollani (piano)

"Sleigh Ride" -- Ayako Shirasaki (piano)

"Do You Hear What I Hear" -- Aaron Diehl (piano)

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- Larry Willis (piano)

"The Christmas Song" -- Dena DeRose (piano, vocals)

"Cool Yule" -- Roseanna Vitro (vocals), McPartland (piano)

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 AM


An Irish Christmas With Dervish And Friends: Listen Now: Irish Heartbeat With Dervish Christmas Special (Morning Edition, December 24, 2008)
-A Jazz Piano Christmas 2008: Ellis Marsalis, Arturo O'Farrill, Eliane Elias, Rebeca Mauleon And Angel Echevarria Play Jazz Versions Of Holiday Classics (, December 12, 2008)
--A Holiday Gift From Marian McPartland: With Special Guests Renee Fleming, Blossom Dearie And More: Listen Now: Marian McPartland's Christmas Special (Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, December 19, 2008)

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 AM


The Birds' Christmas Carol (1886) (Kate Douglas Wiggin)

And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after another, and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take their places; but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas bells that peal glad tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung by childish voices.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner) (James Thurber, 1927-12-24, New Yorker)

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren't even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn't move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

"Father," the children said.

There was no answer. He's there, all right, they thought.

"Father," they said, and banged on their beds.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"We have visions of sugarplums," the children said.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM


A Christmas Carol (G.K.Chesterton)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

[originally posted: 12/24/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


Washington's Christmas Eve Gift
: They wanted him to be king. He wanted to ensure the republic that so many had died for. (Stanley Weintraub, December 23, 2004, LA Times)

We don't associate George Washington with Christmas Eve, or Christmas itself, yet the most significant Christmas Eve in American history occurred in 1783, when Gen. Washington, then 52, headed home to Mount Vernon after nine years at war � and turned his back on ruling the states like a king. [...]

"Had he lived in days of idolatry," a colonist had written in 1777, "he would have been worshiped like a god." Abigail Adams wrote of Washington's "Majestik fabrick." To one poet he was "Our Hero, Guardian, Father, Friend!" To another he was "First of Men." And, by 1778, a Pennsylvania German almanac had referred to him as "Father of his Country."

A brigadier general wrote to Washington, echoing sentiments in the press, that the colonies should merge as a monarchy, with him as king. Washington responded: "I must view this with abhorrence and reprehend [it] with severity."

Philadelphia artist Benjamin West, painting in London on the commission of the king, told George III that despite Washington's popularity, the general chose to return to his farm in Virginia. The king was astonished. If Washington does that, said His Majesty, he will be the greatest man in the world.

In December 1783, the general made good his word.

[originally posted: 2004-12-23]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 AM


In Hoc Anno Domini (Vermont Royster's annual Christmas message, December 25, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
This editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vermont Royster and has been published annually since: [...]

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Just read an exceptionally fine book, The Faith and The Power (James D. Snyder), which reminds us of just how marginal were the Christians of the Apostolic Age and how mighty the Roman Empire. Likewise, the History Channel last night had a show on called, In Search of Christmas, where they delved into the myths and legends of the nativity. It was nicely handled even though the various historians, of necessity, were skeptical about various aspects of the story. But then at the end all of them marveled that, whatever your personal beliefs, it's stunning to consider just how completely this child of dubious origin and lowly station transformed the world.
[originally posted: 2002-12-24]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 AM


Christmas Every Day (William Dean Howells)

Once there was a little girl who liked Christmas so much that she wanted it to be Christmas every day in the year, and as soon as Thanksgiving was over she began to send postcards to the old Christmas Fairy to ask if she mightn't have it. But the old Fairy never answered, and after a while the little girl found out that the Fairy wouldn't notice anything but real letters sealed outside with a monogram--or your initial, anyway. So, then, she began to send letters, and just the day before Christmas, she got a letter from the Fairy, saying she might have it Christmas every day for a year, and then they would see about having it longer.

The little girl was excited already, preparing for the old-fashioned, once-a-year Christmas that was coming the next day. So she resolved to keep the Fairy's promise to herself and surprise everybody with it as it kept coming true, but then it slipped out of her mind altogether.

She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus fill the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and rubber balls, and all kinds of small presents. Then she waited until the rest of the family was up, and she burst into the library to look at the large presents laid out on the library table--books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and inkstands, and skates, and photograph frames, and boxes of watercolors, and dolls' houses--and the big Christmas tree, lighted and standing in the middle.

She had a splendid Christmas all day. She ate so much candy that she did not want any breakfast, and the whole forenoon the presents kept pouring in that had not been delivered the night before, and she went round giving the presents she had got for other people, and came home and ate turkey and cranberry for dinner, and plum pudding and nuts and raisins and oranges, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache crying, and her papa said he would see if his house was turned into that sort of fool's paradise another year, and they had a light supper, and pretty early everybody went to bed cross.

The little girl slept very heavily and very late, but she was wakened at last by the other children dancing around her bed with their stockings full of presents in their hands. "Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!" they all shouted.

"Nonsense! It was Christmas yesterday," said the little girl, rubbing her eyes sleepily.

Her brothers and sisters just laughed. "We don't know about that. It's Christmas today, anyway. You come into the library and see."

Then all at once it flashed on the little girl that the Fairy was keeping her promise, and her year of Christmases was beginning. She was dreadfully sleepy, but she sprang up and darted into the library. There it was again! Books, and boxes of stationery, and dolls, and so on.

There was the Christmas tree blazing away, and the family picking out their presents, and her father looking perfectly puzzled, and her mother ready to cry. "I'm sure I don't see how I'm to dispose of all these things," said her mother, and her father said it seemed to him they had had something just like it the day before, but he supposed he must have dreamed it. This struck the little girl as the best kind of a joke, and so she ate so much candy she didn't want any breakfast, and went round carrying presents, and had turkey and cranberry for dinner, and then went out and coasted, and came in with a stomachache, crying.

Now, the next day, it was the same thing over again, but everybody getting crosser, and at the end of a week's time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere, they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got somebody else's, and it made the most dreadful mix.

The little girl began to get frightened, keeping the secret all to herself, she wanted to tell her mother, but she didn't dare to, and she was ashamed to ask the Fairy to take back her gift, it seemed ungrateful and ill-bred. So it went on and on, and it was Christmas on St. Valentine's Day and Washington's Birthday, just the same as any day, and it didn't skip even the First of April, though everything was counterfeit that day, and that was some little relief.

After a while turkeys got to be awfully scarce, selling for about a thousand dollars apiece. They got to passing off almost anything for turkeys--even half-grown hummingbirds. And cranberries--well they asked a diamond apiece for cranberries. All the woods and orchards were cut down for Christmas trees. After a while they had to make Christmas trees out of rags. But there were plenty of rags, because people got so poor, buying presents for one another, that they couldn't get any new clothes, and they just wore their old ones to tatters. They got so poor that everybody had to go to the poorhouse, except the confectioners, and the storekeepers, and the book-sellers, and they all got so rich and proud that they would hardly wait upon a person when he came to buy. It was perfectly shameful!

After it had gone on about three or four months, the little girl, whenever she came into the room in the morning and saw those great ugly, lumpy stockings dangling at the fireplace, and the disgusting presents around everywhere, used to sit down and burst out crying. In six months she was perfectly exhausted, she couldn't even cry anymore.

The forgotten source of Groundhog Day, retold by Donald Duck and nephews in Disney's recent Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas.

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Hammond restaurant inspired memorable Peking duck scene in 'A Christmas Story' (MOLLY WOULFE, December 22, 2010,


One stroke of a cleaver, and Jean Shepherd immortalized Peking duck as "Chinese turkey" in "A Christmas Story."

To recreate the Parkers' Yule meal in the 1983 film, read on. But let's first pay tribute to the Hammond family and restaurant that inspired the memorable Chop Suey Palace scene.

When TBS kicks off its 24-hour film marathon at 7 p.m. Friday, watch the restaurant action closely. The proprietor (actor John Wong) exudes goodwill to his guests, their turkey savaged by the Bumpus hounds.

The late Charles Sang, owner of the Cam-Lan in Hammond, was as solicitous.

[originally posted: 12/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


The Tenth Art: A new track for the old tradition of model railroading. (William Bryk, NY Press)

A toy train circling beneath the tree is an enduring element of the American Christmas. It first entered the culture a century ago when Joshua Lionel Cowen, founder of Lionel Corporation, invented practical and cheap electric toy locomotives, cars and track–and the marketing for them. Coca-Cola’s classic magazine advertisements showing Santa Claus resting from his labors, sipping Coke and grinning at a Santa Fe diesel locomotive on its three-railed track further established the model train as part of the secular Christmas iconography.

Well into my childhood, most department stores seemed to erect at least a small model- train display during the Christmas season. I remember the wonderfully elaborate layout in the Montgomery Ward store at 150 Broadway in Menands, just across the city line from Albany, NY. The store was nestled in the chain’s regional headquarters, a 1929 Art Deco skyscraper–well, it’s eight stories tall–like those in the glamorous old movies about New York on television. The display had tunnels and signals and flashing lights and whistles and a gleaming Santa Fe streamliner, all silver and scarlet like the ones in the soft-drink ads. Even now, associating Montgomery Ward with Christmas seems appropriate: One of their advertising copywriters, after all, created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

From the late 1950s on, our tastes in recreation changed, television in particular proving a powerful substitute for many activities and hobbies that once amused and occupied us, and holiday-season model-railroad displays largely disappeared.

This is a pity. Model railroading–all miniature modeling, in fact–resembles poetic metaphor.

We needed the jaws-of-life to pry our sons away from the model railroad set under the tree at last night's hospital holiday party.

[originally posted: 2003-12-20]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


9.08 Christmas Albums Yule Love - Or Your Holiday Cheer Back (Kevin Gosa, December 10, 2010, Curator)

The Voice of Christmas - The Complete Decca Christmas Songbook, Bing Crosby, 1935-1956, Decca Records

He truly is the voice of Christmas, and perhaps the most recognizable, stunning, and perfect voice ever recorded. If I had a million years to imagine things, I still couldn't imagine what it feels like to sing like Bing.

While listening to Bing bellow, it's interesting to be reminded that people have been opening gifts and sharing time with family to the strains of these exact versions of classic Christmas songs for almost seventy years. It's one thing for the song itself to belong to antiquity, it's another for an actual performance of one to endure. Plus, the whole recording has that "old-timey" feel. Probably because it was made in the "old times."

He Is Christmas, Take 6, 1991, Word Entertainment

Before I made it big as a writer, I was an editorial intern for an industry trade magazine. I was in charge of compiling a list of "desert island discs," or "moon mission music" as I called it. An artist submitted this recording as one of the five he would take on a one-way trip to the moon. That's high praise since the magazine was for musicians about chamber music.

Normally I'd tread lightly when recommending an a cappella group to an unknown audience, it's sort of like sweetbreads, you either love them, or the thought of it sends you hurtling towards the water closet like Santa after a night of drinking warm, spoiled milk.

But, with all the Glee fanaticism these days, maybe now is a good time to dip your toe into the post-doo-wop-gospel-second-wave-jazz-a cappella-vocal-pop scene.

These guys are just like the cast of Glee, except middle-aged, African-American, all-male, probably bad actors and dancers, but can sing circles around the faux-teens any day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


Do Christians Overemphasize Christmas? (JOHN WILSON, 12/23/10, WSJ)

Christmas brings us face-to-face with the mystery of the Incarnation--the preposterous claim that the creator of the universe sent his son (but how could he have a "son"?) to be born of a virgin (what?), both fully man and fully God: "Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness," as we read in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

This claim we call the Incarnation--and celebrate at Christmas--can't be separated from "the paschal mystery of death and resurrection." The babe in swaddling clothes comes with a mission to fulfill. And as we sing carols for his birth, we see him taken down from the cross, wrapped in "a clean linen cloth," and laid in the tomb of a friend. That's the cloth that is left behind in the empty tomb on Resurrection morning.

Easter is implicit in Christmas, and Christmas is implicit in Easter. When we celebrate the one, we celebrate the other, looking forward to the restoration of all things.

...He wouldn't have learned anything from it had He not lived and died as a man.

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[originally posted: 12/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


Real Scrooge 'was Dutch gravedigger' (Richard Alleyne, 24/12/2007, Daily Telegraph)

He is synonymous with the traditional image of the Victorian English Christmas but Ebenezer Scrooge may have his roots much further afield.

According to Sjef de Jong, a Dutch academic, the Charles Dickens character may have been inspired by the real life of Gabriel de Graaf, a 19th century gravedigger who lived in Holland.

De Graaf, a drunken curmudgeon obsessed with money, was said to have disappeared one Christmas Eve, only to emerge years later as a reformed character.

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


Nordic Quack: Sweden's bizarre tradition of watching Donald Duck cartoons on Christmas Eve. (Jeremy Stahl, Dec. 22, 2009, Slate)

[E]very year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, "From All of Us to All of You." Or as it is known in Sverige, Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas."

Kalle Anka, for short, has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time on Sweden's main public-television channel, TV1, on Christmas Eve (when Swedes traditionally celebrate the holiday) since 1959. The show consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s, only a couple of which have anything to do with Christmas. There are "Silly Symphonies" shorts and clips from films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book. The special is pretty much the same every year, except for the live introduction by a host (who plays the role of Walt Disney from the original Walt Disney Presents series) and the annual addition of one new snippet from the latest Disney-produced movie, which TV1's parent network, SVT, is contractually obligated by Disney to air.

Kalle Anka is typically one of the three most popular television events of the year, with between 40 and 50 percent of the country tuning in to watch.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


The Nativity, Now Chasing the Rockettes (BRUCE WEBER, December 9, 2002, NY Times)
Spread the Word," a rollicking gospel chorale, concludes "Nativity: A Life Story," the Broadway-size and starry Christmas pageant that had three performances over the weekend at the United Palace in Washington Heights.

On Friday night, by the time the cast (which included Phylicia Rashad, Keith David, Stephanie Mills, BeBe Winans, Freddie Jackson, three choirs and 125 people over all) got through with the song's repeated, rousing choruses, led by the full-throated and fully animated Lillias White, the audience was on its feet and roaring as though a rock concert was ending--or at least "Mamma Mia!" The song celebrates faith, and it is a fitting conclusion to this grandly spirited and wholly contemporary show, whose creators have persevered with a faith of their own.

A quirky combination of spiritual fervor, showbiz glamour, African-American pride and a celebration of women, "Nativity" has been presented in a variety of auditoriums over the past seven years, all the while growing in scope and building an audience, as well as earning the sponsorship of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Last year the show overflowed the 1,900-seat capacity of Riverside Church.

Now it has found what Howard Dodson, the Schomburg's executive director, told the Friday night audience will be a permanent annual home at the United Palace, the ornate and opulent 3,500-seat theater at 175th Street and Broadway that was built for vaudeville in the late 1920's and now is owned by Frederick Eikerenkoetter (better known as Reverend Ike) and the United Christian Evangelistic Association.

The shows creator's--the actors James Stovall and Hattie Winston and the composer and orchestrator Harold Wheeler--as well as the Schomburg, are hopeful that with an expanded annual schedule "Nativity: A Life Story" will become a holiday tradition to rival the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall and "A Christmas Carol" at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, not to mention spurring the growth uptown, from Harlem to Washington Heights, of Broadway-style theatrical entertainment.

Hopefully there's a secular roadshow they can send to Dallas. [Originally Posted: 2002-12-10]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


‘The Bishop’s Wife’: VERLYN KLINKENBORG, 12/24/06, NY Times)

We watched “The Bishop’s Wife” at our house the other night. Some years at Christmas we hang a wreath from the kitchen door, and some years we decorate a tree. But we always find an evening to watch “The Bishop’s Wife.” The camera hovers in the night over a lamp-lit city and descends onto its snow-fallen streets, which are thick with Christmas. Then comes Cary Grant, playing an angel named Dudley, the rather oblique answer to David Niven’s â€" the bishop’s â€" prayers. I suppose it is only natural for an angel in 1947, the year “The Bishop’s Wife” was released, to be supremely well tailored and to say, as a token of his celestial nature, that he never “uses” a hat. [...]

[“T]he Bishop’s Wife” is not about redemption. It is about understanding your choices or, perhaps, knowing the true implications of your desires. It alludes to the past but does not depend on recovering it. It looks around this grim world and sees that what it needs is not a cathedral but charity.

This is a modest movie, but it has its exaltations. One is a choir practice at an inner city church directed, angelically, by Dudley, a rehearsal that is as much a symphony in late-1940s plaids, worn by the choirboys, as it is a heralding of salvation. And I am always struck, every year, by the quiet way this movie addresses the atheism of an old history professor, played by the great character actor Monty Woolley. In the end, of course, he is led to church, but he enters quizzically, standing on the steps of St. Timothy’s in the falling snow and looking round as if to wonder what impulse could have brought him there.

Tough to beat David Niven and Cary Grant. The latter's performance -- as an angel envying a mortal -- is particularly wily.

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


A gift for compassion (Kevin Cullen, December 24, 2007, Boston Globe)

It's a long drive up from the Cape, but Mary Quin does it without complaint. Eddie is her oldest, her baby, and she loves him the way only a mother can love her firstborn.
more stories like this

"Hi, Ma," Eddie said, climbing into the car.

Eddie is 50 years old, mentally retarded, and smarter than a lot of people. He lives in a group home in Wakefield and works as a janitor at a workshop in Woburn.

Mother and son have a little tradition this time of year. She picks him up, they have lunch, and she takes him to the stores, so he can buy Christmas presents for his brother and sisters.

They were sitting in the China Moon, in Stoneham, waiting for their lunch, when Mary noticed Eddie wasn't himself.

"What's the matter, Eddie?"

"I seen it on TV, Ma," he said. "There was a fire, in Everett, and everybody's house got burned up. There was an oil truck and it crashed and it burned."

Eddie couldn't stop thinking about the people in Everett since he saw it on the news.

"I've got a lot of clothes, Ma," Eddie said. "I've got clothes at my house, and I've got clothes at your house down the Cape. I want to give some of my clothes to those people."

Mary Quin told Eddie that it wasn't clothes that the people in Everett needed. She had heard they needed other things, like money and gift cards.

Eddie thought for a moment. Then he pulled a dog-eared bank book from his back pocket.

"Ma," he said. "Can you take me to the bank?"

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


A Sky Full of Children (Madeleine L'Engle, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.)

I walk out onto the deck of my cottage, looking up at the great river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky. A sliver of a moon hangs in the southwest, with the evening star gently in the curve.

Evening. Evening of this day. Evening of my own life.

I look at the stars and wonder. How old is the universe? All kinds of estimates have been made and, as far as we can tell, not one is accurate. All we know is that once upon a time or, rather, once before time, Christ called everything into being in a great breath of creativity - waters, land, green growing things, birds and beasts, and finally human creatures - the beginning, the genesis, not in ordinary Earth days; the Bible makes it quite clear that God's time is different from our time. A thousand years for us is no more than the blink of an eye to God. But in God's good time the universe came into being, opening up from a tiny flower of nothingness to great clouds of hydrogen gas to swirling galaxies. In God's good time came solar systems and planets and ultimately this planet on which I stand on this autumn evening as the Earth makes its graceful dance around the sun. It takes one Earth day, one Earth night, to make a full turn, part of the intricate pattern of the universe. And God called it good, very good.

A sky full of God's children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and subatomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a subatomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are made in God's image, male and female, and we are, as Christ promised us, God's children by adoption and grace.

Children of God, made in God's image. How? Genesis gives no explanations, but we do know instinctively that it is not a physical image. God's explanation is to send Jesus, the incarnate One, God enfleshed. Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy. It is love, God's limitless love enfleshing that love into the form of a human being, Jesus, the Christ, fully human and fully divine.

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Santa Claus (Claire Suddath, Dec. 25, 2008, TIME)

A timeline of St. Nick's illustrious life:

circa 280 A.D.Nicholas is born in Patara, Lycia -- part of modern day Turkey. Like others of the Emperor Constantine generation, he enters a life of religious servitude. He works his way up from abbot to the archbishop of Myra -- a nearby town -- and gets his first nickname: Nicholas of Myra.

325 A.D. Nicholas attends the First Council of Nicaea and helps create the Nicene Creed, which millions upon millions of Sunday School children will later memorize. Tip: children who mention this in their annual letter to Santa receive an average of 3 extra toys.

330 A.D. When a father doesn't have enough money for his three daughters' dowries, dooming them, apparently, to forced prostitution, Nicholas leaves three bags of gold outside the girls' home (or, according to a different version of the story, in their shoes) to keep them from having to pull an Ashley Alexander Dupre. This is one of the few stories based on some sort of historical record and it explains Nicholas' reputation as a gift-giver.

We were only joking, but should have known that somewhere the Fun Police would take it seriously, Be very afraid, but not of Santa (Rod Liddle, December 24, 2008, The Australian)

A couple of years back, in Cairns, another Santa was sacked from his grotto in a department store for having said "Ho, ho, ho" to the children waiting before him. According to the store, he should have said "Ha, ha, ha" but he was a Bad Santa. "Ho, ho, ho" might be perceived as being derogatory to women, it was strongly argued. A ho is African-American vernacular for a prostitute, or at least a woman of loose morals, so you can't say it any more. Ha, ha, ha. This is where we are now.

[originally posted: 12/25/08]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Santa's Sanctuary: Jolly Old Elf's Been On Top Of The World For Nearly 150 Years, But Is His Territorial Claim Legally Valid? (WILLIAM WEIR, December 11 2005, Hartford Courant)

[C]an a large-scale venture like Santa's workshop operate in the North Pole without treading on international law?

His current legal status is fairly solid. Despite contrary claims, no one owns the North Pole. Maritime law considers the northern polar cap to be high seas, so Santa is free to set up shop there. That doesn't mean it's easy to do, lacking sovereignty and without military might.

Some of Santa's tangled situation is of his own doing. His mythos depends on universality - he belongs to the world, not just one nation. It's a heartwarming notion, certainly, but one that could mean a world of trouble for him. Without backing from a specific government, Santa's workshop falls under free-lancer status. That's a risky undertaking on the high seas. With no government to back you up, you're easy pickings for any band of well-armed criminals.

"Marauders and ice pirates would be much less likely to attack a place with sovereignty," says Christopher Joyner, director of the Institute of International Law & Politics at Georgetown University.

We could assume that nations would aid Santa in an emergency, but assumptions don't carry much weight with investors and insurance companies.

"You'd want to have the backing of economic investors, and the only way you can do that is to have sovereignty," Joyner says. "No one wants to invest in an enterprise with no nation behind it."

Santa could declare himself an agent of "common heritage of mankind," Joyner suggests. The legal concept goes back some 40 years and gives international protection to resources that profit all of humanity. As Santa's legal counsel, Joyner would present his client as "an agent of wealth redistribution" based on his yearly gift-giving jaunts.

But the very few instances of successful application make it a long shot. Only the deep sea bed has wide acceptance as common heritage, while the moon and other celestial bodies have limited acceptance. Chile's campaign to deem Antarctica a common heritage of mankind went nowhere. An ongoing campaign seeks that status for the human genome.

Joyner points out another complication: "You've got to believe in Santa to get gifts." Such a stipulation virtually eliminates many Third World and Far Eastern nations where Santa rarely gets mentioned. And that casts significant doubt on any claims of global beneficence.

Where's Mr. Weir been?, Dreaming of a quiet Christmas (Japan Times, 12/11/05)
December and Christmas: Even in non-Christian Japan, the two go together as naturally as holly and ivy. In fact, December in Tokyo can sometimes seem almost as Christmassy as December in Rome. Christmas trees appear on street corners and in store windows. Garlands and wreaths, tinsel and red candles abound. Vendors do a roaring trade in Stollen and kurisumasu keeki. Teams of jolly Santa Clauses materialize. And everywhere the tinkling, chiming ding-a-linging of Christmas carols fills the air. Whatever else it may be here on Christmas Eve, it is not "Silent Night."

Asia adopts Christmas (Robert Marquand, 12/23/02, The Christian Science Monitor)
Somewhere on the journey to becoming the world's biggest exporter of Christmas toys, China started importing yule for itself.

Christmas wreaths and lighted trees, white-foam snowmen and special dinners, as well as an ethos of "jingle-bell cool" are wafting in on the wings of global culture, bringing a holiday atmosphere to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

(Originally posted: 12/12/05)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Once Again, Having Its 7 Minutes of Flame (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 12/25/05, NY Times)

The flames flicker too fast.

The Christmas morning yule log special on WPIX - a four-hour tape of a log blazing brightly in a fireplace - is not for the fainthearted. The unextinguishable electronic hearth is a beloved New York tradition, but it would be a stretch to call it soothing. Even with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby crooning carols on the audio track, the pulsing flames mesmerize, but less like a snifter of brandy than like a double dose of methamphetamine.

In fact, staring at the yule log for an extended period may induce the kind of seizures that in December 1997 struck hundreds of Japanese children who watched a Pok�mon cartoon with too many flashing lights and Pikachu. This year the yule log will also be shown in high-definition television on WPIX's digital channel, WPIX-DT (channel 12). The HDTV version provides "a very sharp image of flames," said Ted Faraone, a WPIX spokesman. Parental discretion advised.

Memory can be misleading, of course. Apparently, the fire has always burned fast and furiously. Mr. Faraone said the yule log had not been speeded up or tampered with when it was digitally remastered in 2001, the year WPIX brought it back after a 12-year hiatus. He insisted that the tape was the same one that was made in 1970, a loop that runs just under seven minutes.

That's a damn lie! It's shown live every year.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


-INTERVIEW: Todd Komarnicki: Producer, Director, Writer�and Believer: The producer of Elf explains how his Christian faith affects his career as a Hollywood producer, director, and writer. (Jeffrey Overstreet, 11/13/2003, Christianity Today)

There is an interesting issue dividing Christian film critics' reviews over the new holiday comedy Elf. Some go so far as to call it a "perfect holiday movie" that "promot[es] biblical concepts." Others are frustrated that "spirituality is notably absent." It all comes down to whether or not the critic thinks Santa Claus is a meaningful metaphor, or if Jolly Old Saint Nick needs to surrender his throne and change his theme song to "Baby Jesus is Coming to Town." (See Film Forum's review roundups from this week and last week.)

But Elf's producer argues that the gospel message is reflected in this whimsical world of make-believe. [...]

For a lot of moviegoers�Christians included�Christmas fairy tales are a meaningful and enjoyable part of the holiday tradition. But there are those who think fairy tales cheapen Christmas. The snowmen, the reindeer, Santa. Elf does not make direct references to the real story of Christmas, and some Christian film critics have a problem with that. Do you think Elf and other such Christmas fairy tales are damaging?

Not if they tell the truth! One of the things that is beautiful about a good fairy tale is that it reflects the truth. The truth that Elf reflects is about giving and innocence and learning to live sacrificially�to put others first. That's the story of Christmas. It reflects the truth of Christmas.

We have a savior who was a storyteller, [so] I think there is great value in story. Jesus almost never said exactly what his thought was straight out. He was always couching it in metaphor and simile, so that people would think�to engage them and to engage their imagination, to see the context in which they were living. Story does that. I think it's a very powerful tool. Certainly, like any tool, it can be misused, but I think Elf is a really strong example of a beautiful fairy tale that by its nature ends up reflecting the truth. The writer didn't set out to reflect the gospel. But, in telling a beautiful fairy tale from his own heart and in reflecting a lot of Christmas movies that he had loved, he wound up reflecting the gospel.

Got an e-mail this week informing us that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest couldn't be a Christian allegory because Ken Kesey wasn't a Christian. Folks have also complained that Cool Hand Luke is just a prison story. Just goes to show how right Albert Jay Nock was:
[V]ery few literate persons are able to read, very few indeed. This can be proven by observation and experiment of the simplest kind. I do not mean that the great majority are unable to read intelligently; I mean that they are unable to read at all--unable, that is, to carry away from a piece of printed matter anything like a correct idea of its content. They are more or less adept at passing printed matter through their minds, after a fashion, especially such matter as is addressed to mere sensation, (and knowledge of this fact is nine-tenths of a propagandist's equipment), but this is not reading. Reading implies a use of the reflective faculty, and very few have that faculty developed much beyond the anthropoid stage, let alone possessing it at a stage of development which makes reading practicable.

-INTERVIEW: Big Screen Vision: The producer of Elf shares the Christian hope that drives his filmmaking. (Christian Reader, November/December 2003)
-REVIEW: of Elf (Jeffery Overstreet, Looking Closer)

[originally posted: 2003-11-14]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Matt Wilson | Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (JON GARELICK, December 7, 2010, The Phoenix)

From the opening clopping rims and brawny tenor of "Winter Wonderland," you might imagine you've taken a left turn with Sonny Rollins's "Old Cowhand," if it weren't for the loping R&B bass line that soon turns into a straight walk for some fierce and witty Sonny-like blowing. "The Chipmunk Song" is an easy waltz for soprano and three-way chipmunky squawking in the out chorus; Wilson conjoins Ayler's "Angels" with the traditional "Angels We Have Heard on High" for double-time gospel fervor and toy-piano repose; "Christmas Time Is Here" could have come straight out of Kris Kringle Joe Lovano's brawny bag. In "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," the title part goes to a bass clarinet; "Mele Kalikimake" is a clarinet klezmer polka with timpani accents. As for Lennon/Ono, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" is an affecting slow march with sleigh bells. Every year, there's a Christmas album that transcends the format. This year, for me, it's this one.

Read more:

Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O: Tiny Desk Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR: Tiny Desk Concert)
The extraordinary jazz drummer Matt Wilson seems to know that camp is part of the holiday's appeal. He recently recorded a new album of Christmas favorites new and old with two other musicians; the band and the record are both thusly called -- what else? -- Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O. (Dig that bargain-bin cover art, too.) And the Tree-O showed up for its Tiny Desk Concert with both a pink tinsel tree and an animatronic singing Santa hat.

The band's artifice may be a bit hokey, but its musicianship isn't. With only a snare drum and ride cymbal, Wilson kept an impressively varied but deep swinging pocket, along with "wonder boy" Paul Sikivie on bass. Meanwhile, Wilson's longtime associate, reedman Jeff Lederer, stole the show on three different horns. There was gonzo tenor sax expressionism in "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," playful clarinet staccato in "O Come All Ye Faithful" (also featuring "the NPR tabernacle choir" singing along), and a crazed, squawking reading of the most famous part of Handel's Messiah leading into a shrill "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on piccolo.

There's a deep grounding in jazz for this -- for taking threadbare or overplayed melodies and transforming them into creative art of the highest order -- as well as long-standing precedents of outgoing, personable showmen.

[originally posted: 12/25/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


The God With an Infant's Face (George Weigel, December 27, 2007 , EPCC)

Christianity isn't about our search for God. Like its parent, Judaism, Christianity is about God's search for us, and our learning to take the same path through history that God does. The God with a human face began the climactic portion of his salvific journey through history as a baby, calling others out of themselves as only babies can do. Every year, the crèche calls us to ponder the Law of the Gift written on the human heart by the God who is Love.

The radicalism of a God who dies is rather easily understood, but even sensible Christians tend to miss the importance of the fact that God had to become human before He could understand us.

[originally posted: 12/28/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Hail Mary: You have more in common with the mother of Jesus than you think. (James Martin, Dec. 24, 2009, Slate)

The human Mary has a lot to teach Christians--actually, everyone: men and women, from the devout believer to the doubtful seeker to the disbelieving atheist.

Just look at her story as recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Even if you doubt that the narrative is told accurately, you have to admit that buried within this supposedly pious and saccharine Bible tale is the vivid image of a strong, resilient, and self-possessed woman.

To begin with, the first time Mary opens her mouth in the New Testament, it is to question God. "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" she asks, after the angel tells her that she will give birth (a reasonable enough question). Her response to something surprising in her life--and that's quite an understatement--is to question. To doubt. Here is one moment where her entirely human life intersects our own.

Who hasn't wanted to ask in the face of a life-altering change, "How can this be?" Holy confusion is a natural part of the life of any believer--indeed, any person. Ironically, earlier in Luke's Gospel, Zechariah, the soon-to-be father of John the Baptist, doesn't fare as well with his question. When he doubts that his elderly wife will conceive a son, a manifestly testy angel strikes him dumb. When Mary airs her confusion, the angel politely furnishes her with an explanation--albeit a confusing one. It's a striking example of biblical favoritism for women.

After the angel explains what will happen to her, Mary makes her decision. She says yes. "Let it be done to me according to your will." As the Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson points out in her book Truly Our Sister, the young peasant girl decides on her own, without recourse to the traditional male authorities of her day: "Exercising independent thought and action, she asks questions, takes counsel with her own soul," Johnson writes. "In a self-determining act of personal autonomy, she decides to go for it." This is one reason why Mary is a central figure for many smart Christian women, like the theologian Diana Hayes, who calls Mary's radical "yes" a moment of "outrageous authority."

...Rebecca even laughs at Him.

[originally posted: 12/24/09]

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Posted by David Cohen at 12:00 AM


'Twas late Christmas eve, and in far distant houses
the only sound heard was the clicking of mouses.
With faces awash in the monitors' glow,
the blog readers wondered when Orrin would blow.

Our spouses were restless, alone in their beds,
mild oaths and deprecations danced in their heads.
But addicts won't sign off, we just hit refresh,
awaiting a screed 'gainst a suit on a cr�che.

When out of the ether there came such a clatter,
a dirge that the law was reduced to a tatter.
I opened a Window to post my own bent,
forgot to hit "preview" and misspelled "coment".

The Brothers Judd proved that the ACLU
would surrender the vote 'fore judicial review.
But what to my wondering eyes should appear --
not agreement nor praise, but dissension and fear.

Such a snappy retort, so quick on the parry,
I knew in a moment it must be from Harry,
(though being six hours behind is a cheat),
and soon he and Orrin sought the other to beat:

"Now Darwin!" "Not Darwin;
Prayer and conviction!"
"On, Stalin!" "On, Curia!"
"The Big Spook is fiction!"
The path was well-worn, but
they were having a ball.
each vying to triumph and
dash away all!

The furball expanded, we got from Detroit
some arguments practiced, impassioned, adroit.
These arguments, though, were as wrong as could be,
based on the notion that dad was a monkey.

Some positions fell as the arguments flew,
while others stayed firm, held by logical glue.
We all piled in, joining in on the fight,
though toys needed assembly and wives were uptight.

We heard, from Great Britain and the great Northern waste
(Queen Elizabeth's subjects who hang 'round the place)
a classical argument, based on Burke's wisdom,
for antidisestablishmentarianism.

It got ever later, Christmas soon would be here,
finding commenters groggy and empty of cheer.
I knew in my heart I should stop the commotion,
though I might as well try to hold back the ocean.

The posts kept on coming and the comments came, too.
from Florida, Cambridge and from Kalamazoo.
For my own part I knew the next day would bring
a matinee showing of The Lord Of The Rings

So I got to bed late, knowing I can sleep in,
no church in the morning, nor terrible din.
But gladly I wish you, 'ere I tuck in so tight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Whose Child Is This?: The early church's opponents claimed Jesus was illegitimate. Its heretical fringe said he wasn't human. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth set them both straight. (Richard Longenecker, 12/22/00, Christianity Today)

When they tell their stories of Jesus' birth, Matthew and Luke have little in common. Matthew dwells on the fulfillment of prophecy, the visit of foreign astrologers, and the slaughter of the innocents. Luke, by contrast, reports the poetic utterances of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, and focuses on Mary's relatives and the visit of the shepherds.

Matthew 1:18-2:23 and Luke 1:5-2:52 are quite different. Neither writer seems to have known the other's account. Yet Matthew and Luke make one major point in common�that Jesus was born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit. This agreement, amidst otherwise diverse presentations, suggests that a common tradition regarding the Virgin Birth existed before either writer recorded his story.

How did a divine mystery, agreed on by the Gospel writers, become the subject of debate?

From at least Ignatius of Antioch (writing about A.D. 110) to the nineteenth century, almost all Christians accepted the Virgin Birth as both a fact of history and a datum of theology. Believers expected marvelous events to accompany God's actions, and so the miraculous served to support faith. In addition, the Virgin Birth fit nicely with church teaching about Jesus' being the Son of God and having a sinless nature.

After the eighteenth-century intellectual revolution we call the Enlightenment, however, the miraculous created suspicion rather than faith-even among Christians. This stemmed from more than mere rationalism or the association of miracles with credulity. It also arose from the conviction that God works in and through a history like our own-and a history studded with miracles is not the kind of history we know. So in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many scholars refused to believe that Jesus was conceived any differently from anyone else. Furthermore, the doctrine of the Virgin Birth seemed impossible to reconcile with the true humanity of Jesus.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Birth of Jesus: From Mary to the manger, how the Gospels mix faith and history to tell the Christmas story and make the case for Christ (Jon Meacham, 12/13/04, Newsweek)

Like the Victorians, we live in an age of great belief and great doubt, and sometimes it seems as though we must choose between two extremes, the evangelical and the secular. "I don't want to be too simplistic, but our faith is somewhat childlike," says the Rev. H. B. London, a vice president of James Dobson's conservative Focus on the Family organization in Colorado Springs. "Though other people may question the historical validity of the virgin birth, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we don't." London's view has vast public support. A NEWSWEEK Poll found that 84 percent of American adults consider themselves Christians, and 82 percent see Jesus as God or the son of God. Seventy-nine percent say they believe in the virgin birth, and 67 percent think the Christmas story�from the angels' appearance to the Star of Bethlehem�is historically accurate. [...]

A man with no human father, a king who died a criminal's death, a God who assures us of everlasting life in a world to come while the world he made is consumed by war and strife: Christianity is a religion of perplexing contradictions. To live an examined faith believers have to acknowledge those complexities and engage them, however frustrating it may be. "We are in a world of mystery, with one bright Light before us, sufficient for our proceeding forward through all difficulties," wrote John Henry Newman, the great Victorian cleric whose intellectual journey led him from the Anglican priesthood to the Roman Curia. "Take away this Light and we are utterly wretched�we know not where we are, how we are sustained, what will become of us, and of all that is dear to us, what we are to believe, and why we are in being." The Christmas star is just one such light; there are others. Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our creeds, many of us are in search of the kind of faith that will lead us through the darkness, toward home. In Luke, the angelic host hails the Lord and then says: "on earth peace, good will toward men"�a promise whose fulfillment is worth our prayers not only in this season, but always.

Reading Edward Larson's very fine book on the Scopes Trial, one comes to the great showdown between William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow and it is striking, in the original, to see just how obsessed Darrow was by the contradictions of the Bible in contrast to the equanimity of Bryan. If Bryan's beliefs are, by definition, less rational, it is Darrow who comes across as a fanatic:
Judge--Do you want Mr. Bryan sworn?


Bryan--I can make affirmation; I can say "So help me God, I will tell the truth."

Darrow--No, I take it you will tell the truth, Mr. Bryan. You have given considerable study to the Bible, haven't you, Mr. Bryan?

Bryan--Yes, sir, I have tried to.

Darrow--Then you have made a general study of it?

Bryan--Yes, I have; I have studied the Bible for about 50 years, or sometime more than that, but, of course, I have studied it more as I have become older than when I was but a boy.

Darrow--You claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?

Bryan--I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there: some of the Bible is given illustratively. For instance: "Ye are the salt of the earth." I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God's people.

Darrow--But when you read that Jonah swallowed the whale--or that the whale swallowed Jonah--excuse me please--how do you literally interpret that?

Bryan--When I read that a "big fish" swallowed Jonah--it does not say whale. That is my recollection of it. A big fish, and I believe it, and I believe in a God who can make a whale and can make a man and make both what He pleases.

Darrow--Now, you say, the big fish swallowed Jonah, and he there remained how long--three days--and then he spewed him upon the land. You believe that the big fish was made to swallow Jonah?

Bryan--I am not prepared to say that; the Bible merely says it was done.

Darrow--You don't know whether it was the ordinary run of fish, or made for that purpose?

Bryan--You may guess; you evolutionists guess...

Darrow--You are not prepared to say whether that fish was made especially to swallow a man or not?

Bryan--The Bible doesn't say, so I am not prepared to say.

Darrow--But do you believe He made them--that He made such a fish and that it was big enough to swallow Jonah?

Bryan--Yes, sir. Let me add: One miracle is just as easy to believe as another.

Darrow--Just as hard?

Bryan--It is hard to believe for you, but easy for me. A miracle is a thing performed beyond what man can perform. When you get within the realm of miracles; and it is just as easy to believe the miracle of Jonah as any other miracle in the Bible.

Darrow--Perfectly easy to believe that Jonah swallowed the whale?

Bryan--If the Bible said so; the Bible doesn't make as extreme statements as evolutionists do.

Darrow--The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it.

Bryan--I do.

Darrow--Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?

Bryan--No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.

Darrow--Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?

Bryan--I don't know what they thought.

Darrow--You don't know?

Bryan--I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.

Darrow--Have you an opinion as to whether or not the men who wrote that thought--

Thomas Stewart (a prosecution lawyer)--I want to object, your honor. It has gone beyond the pale of any issue that could possibly be injected into this lawsuit, except by imagination. I do not think the defendant has a right to conduct the examination any further and I ask your honor to exclude it.

Bryan--It seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the defense to the facts. If they are not allowed to get away from the facts, what have they to deal with?

Judge--Mr. Bryan is willing to be examined. Go ahead.

Darrow--Can you answer my question directly? If the day was lengthened by stopping either the earth or the sun, it must have been the earth?

Bryan--Well, I should say so.

Darrow--Now, Mr. Bryan, have you ever pondered what would have happened to the earth if it had stood still?


Darrow--You have not?

Bryan--No; the God I believe in could have taken care of that, Mr. Darrow.

Darrow--I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?


Darrow--Don't you know it would have been converted into molten mass of matter?

Bryan--You testify to that when you get on the stand, I will give you a chance.

Darrow--Don't you believe it?

Bryan--I would want to hear expert testimony on that.

Darrow--You have never investigated that subject?

Bryan--I don't think I have ever had the question asked.

Darrow--Or ever thought of it?

Bryan--I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance.

Darrow--You believe the story of the flood to be a literal interpretation?

Bryan--Yes, sir.

Darrow--When was that flood?

Bryan--I would not attempt to fix the date. The date is fixed, as suggested this morning.

Darrow--About 4004 B.C.?

Bryan--That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today. [A witness had testified on Bishop Ussher's theory that the Earth was formed in 4004 B.C.] I would not say it is accurate.

Darrow--That estimate is printed in the Bible?

Bryan--Everybody knows, at least, I think most of the people know, that was the estimate given.

Darrow--But what do you think that the Bible itself says? Don't you know how it was arrived at?

Bryan--I never made a calculation.

Darrow--A calculation from what?

Bryan--I could not say.

Darrow--From the generations of man?

Bryan--I would not want to say that.

Darrow--What do you think?

Bryan--I do not think about things I don't think about.

Darrow--Do you think about things you do think about?

Bryan--Well, sometimes. (Laughter.)

Policeman--Let us have order....

Thomas Stewart {prosecution attorney}--Your honor, he is perfectly able to take care of this, but we are attaining no evidence. This is not competent evidence.

Bryan--These gentlemen have not had much chance--they did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.

Judge--All right. (Applause.)

Darrow--Great applause from the bleachers.

Bryan--From those whom you call "yokels."

Darrow--I have never called them yokels.

Bryan--That is the ignorance of Tennessee, the bigotry.

Darrow--You mean who are applauding you? (Applause.)

Bryan--Those are the people whom you insult.

Darrow--You insult every man of science and learning in the world because he does believe in your fool religion.

Judge--I will not stand for that.

Darrow--For what he is doing?

Judge--I am talking to both of you.

Darrow--Do you know anything about how many people there were in Egypt 3,500 years ago, or how many people there were in China 5,000 years ago?


Darrow--Have you ever tried to find out?

Bryan--No, sir. You are the first man I ever heard of who has been interested in it. (Laughter.)

Darrow--Mr. Bryan, am I the first man you ever heard of who has been interested in the age of human societies and primitive man?

Bryan--You are the first man I ever heard speak of the number of people at those different periods.

Darrow--Where have you lived all your life?

Bryan--Not near you. (Laughter and applause.)

Darrow--Nor near anybody of learning?

Bryan--Oh, don't assume you know it all.

Darrow--Do you know there are thousands of books in our libraries on all those subjects I have been asking you about?

Bryan--I couldn't say, but I will take your word for it....

Darrow--Have you any idea how old the earth is?


Darrow--The book you have introduced in evidence tells you, doesn't it?

Bryan--I don't think it does, Mr. Darrow.

Darrow--Let's see whether it does; is this the one?

Bryan--That is the one, I think.

Darrow--It says B.C. 4004?

Bryan--That is Bishop Ussher's calculation.

Darrow--That is printed in the Bible you introduced?

Bryan--Yes, sir.

Darrow--Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?

Bryan--Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.

Darrow--How much?

Bryan--I couldn't say.

Darrow--Do you say whether the Bible itself says it is older than that?

Bryan--I don't think it is older or not.

Darrow--Do you think the earth was made in six days?

Bryan--Not six days of 24 hours.

Darrow--Doesn't it say so?

Bryan--No, sir.

Judge--Are you about through, Mr. Darrow?

Darrow--I want to ask a few more questions about the creation.

Judge--I know. We are going to adjourn when Mr. Bryan comes off the stand for the day. Be very brief, Mr. Darrow. Of course, I believe I will make myself clearer. Of course, it is incompetent testimony before the jury. The only reason I am allowing this to go in at all is that they may have it in the appellate court as showing what the affidavit would be.

Bryan--The reason I am answering is not for the benefit of the superior court. It is to keep these gentlemen from saying I was afraid to meet them and let them question me, and I want the Christian world to know that any atheist, agnostic, unbeliever, can question me anytime as to my belief in God, and I will answer him.

Darrow--I want to take an exception to this conduct of this witness. He may be very popular down here in the hills--

Bryan--Your honor, they have not asked a question legally and the only reason they have asked any question is for the purpose, as the question about Jonah was asked, for a chance to give this agnostic an opportunity to criticize a believer in the world of God; and I answered the question in order to shut his mouth so that he cannot go out and tell his atheistic friends that I would not answer his questions. That is the only reason, no more reason in the world.

Malone (another defense counsel)--Your honor on this very subject, I would like to say that I would have asked Mr. Bryan, and I consider myself as good a Christian as he is, every question that Mr. Darrow has asked him for the purpose of bringing out whether or not there is to be taken in this court a literal interpretation of the Bible, or whether, obviously, as these questions indicate, if a general and literal construction cannot be put upon the parts of the Bible which have been covered by Mr. Darrow's questions. I hope for the last time no further attempt will be made by counsel on the other side of the case, or Mr. Bryan, to say the defense is concerned at all with Mr. Darrow's particular religious views or lack of religious views. We are here as lawyers with the same right to our views. I have the same right to mine as a Christian as Mr. Bryan has to his, and we do not intend to have this case charged by Mr. Darrow's agnosticism or Mr. Bryan's brand of Christianity. (A great applause.)

Darrow --Mr. Bryan, do you believe that the first woman was Eve?


Darrow--Do you believe she was literally made out of Adam's rib? Bryan--I do.

Darrow--Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?

Bryan--No, sir. I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.

Darrow--You have never found out?

Bryan--I have never tried to find out.

Darrow--You have never tried to find out?


Darrow--The Bible says he got one, doesn't it? Were there other people on the earth at that time?

Bryan--I cannot say.

Darrow--You cannot say. Did that ever enter your consideration?

Bryan--Never bothered me.

Darrow--There were no others recorded, but Cain got a wife.

Bryan--That is what the Bible says.

Darrow--Where she came from you do not know. All right. Does the statement, "The morning and the evening were the first day," and "The morning and the evening were the second day," mean anything to you?

Bryan--I do not think it necessarily means a 24-hour day.

Darrow--You do not?


Darrow--What do you consider it to be?

Bryan--I have not attempted to explain it. If you will take the second chapter--let me have the book. [Reaches for a Bible.] The fourth verse of the second chapter says: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," the word day there in the very next chapter is used to describe a period. I do not see that there is any necessity for construing the words, "the evening and the morning," as meaning necessarily a 24-hour day, "in the day when the Lord made the heaven and the earth."

Darrow--Then, when the Bible said, for instance, "and God called the firmament heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day," that does not necessarily mean twenty-four hours?

Bryan--I do not think it necessarily does.

Darrow--Do you think it does or does not?

Bryan--I know a great many think so.

Darrow--What do you think?

Bryan--I do not think it does.

Darrow--You think those were not literal days?

Bryan--I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days.

Darrow--What do you think about it?

Bryan--That is my opinion--I do not know that my opinion is better on that subject than those who think it does.

Darrow--You do not think that?

Bryan--No. But I think it would be just as easy for the kind of God we believe in to make the earth in six days as in six years or in 6 million years or in 600 million years. I do not think it important whether we believe one or the other.

Darrow--Do you think those were literal days?

Bryan--My impression is they were periods, but I would not attempt to argue against anybody who wanted to believe in literal days.

Darrow--I will read it to you from the Bible: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do you think that is why the serpent is compelled to crawl upon its belly?

Bryan--I believe that.

Darrow--Have you any idea how the snake went before that time?

Bryan--No, sir.

Darrow--Do you know whether he walked on his tail or not?

Bryan--No, sir. I have no way to know. (Laughter.)

Darrow--Now, you refer to the cloud that was put in heaven after the flood, the rainbow. Do you believe in that?

Bryan--Read it.

Darrow--All right, Mr. Bryan, I will read it for you.

Bryan--Your Honor, I think I can shorten this testimony. The only purpose Mr. Darrow has is to slur at the Bible, but I will answer his question. I will answer it all at once, and I have no objection in the world. I want the world to know that this man, who does not believe in a God, is trying to use a court in Tennessee to slur at it, and while it will require time, I am willing to take it.

Darrow--I object to your statement. I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.

Judge--Court is adjourned until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.

[originally posted: 2004-12-12]

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I'm Dreaming of a Victorian Christmas: An ageless story reminds us of the values the Victorians can still teach us. (Chris Armstrong, 12/23/2002, Christianity Today)
The Christmases of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women still shine forth a bright, good hopefulness in the midst of trying times--a hopefulness made solid in the bond of family and the desire to live well in God's sight. What allows Alcott's story to escape the saccharine orbit of many sentimentalist tales and speak to us in deep ways?

Yes, the author's sure narrative touch and vivid characterization. But also this, I think: Alcott knows intimately and presents lovingly truths that were the Victorian era's special treasure.

The foremost of these is the truth we still recall every Christmas season: Every family, whatever its trials and stresses, is a God-given blessing to be treasured and celebrated. Each of us is meant to grow and flourish within a family, becoming all God means us to be. Without family, the way is--not impossible, but harder and colder.

We wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. [originally posted: 2002-12-24]
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The Time of No Room (Thomas Merton)

Why then was the inn crowded? Because of the census, the eschatological massing of the "whole world" in centers of registration, to be numbered, to be identified with the structure of imperial power. The purpose of the census: to discover those who were to be taxed. To find out those who were eligible for service in the armies of the empire.

The Bible had not been friendly to a census in the days when God was ruler of Israel (2 Samuel 24). The numbering of the people of God by an alien emperor and their full consent to it was itself an eschatological sign, preparing those who could understand it to meet judgment with repentance. After all, in the Apocalyptic literature of the Bible, this "summoning together" or convocation of the powers of the earth to do battle is the great sign of "the end."

It was therefore impossible that the Word should lose himself by being born into shapeless and passive mass. He had indeed emptied himself, taken the form of God's servant, man. But he did not empty himself to the point of becoming mass man, faceless man. It was therefore right that there should be no room for him in a crowd that had been called together as an eschatological sign. His being born outside that crowd is even more of a sign. That there is no room for him is a sign of the end.

Nor are the tidings of great joy announced in the crowded inn. In the massed crowd there are always new tidings of joy and disaster. Where each new announcement is the greatest of announcements, where every day's disaster is beyond compare, every day's danger demands the ultimate sacrifice, all news and all judgment is reduced to zero. News becomes merely a new noise in the mind, briefly replacing the noise that went before it and yielding to the noise that comes after it, so that eventually everything blends into the same monotonous and meaningless rumor. News? There is so much news that there is no room left for the true tidings, the "Good News," the Great Joy.

Hence the Great Joy is announced, after all, in silence, loneliness and darkness, to shepherds "living in the fields" or "living in the countryside" and apparently unmoved by the rumors or massed crowds. These are the remnant of the desert-dwellers, the nomads, the true Israel.

Even though "the whole world" is ordered to be inscribed, they do not seem to be affected. Doubtless they have registered, as Joseph and Mary will register, but they remain outside the agitation, and untouched by the vast movement, the massing of hundreds and thousands of people everywhere in the towns and cities.

They are therefore quite otherwise signed. They are designated, surrounded by a great light, they receive the message of the Great Joy, and they believe it with joy. They see the Shekinah over them, recognize themselves for what they are. They are the remnant, the people of no account, who are therefore chosen - the anawim. And they obey the light. Nor was anything else asked of them.

(Originally posted: 12/24/04)

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Give me seasonal schmaltz: Christmas captures the defining characteristic of Americans - their lack of cynicism and scepticism (Gerard Baker, 12.23/04, Times of London))

[A]bove all, the annual fuss about taking Christ out of Christmas misses the central point about the holiday season in America. This time of year captures, perhaps better than any other, the defining characteristic of Americans in the modern world � their lack of cynicism and scepticism, their enduring hope and faith in themselves, their country and even the world around them.

In Britain and most of Europe, Christmas has become that special occasion for wallowing in cynicism. We love to complain about the shopping, the train delays and the weather. Popular culture disdains the spirit of the season, and plays up instead the secularist, sceptical, mocking, lost innocence tone of British life.

With a few ghastly exceptions from Sir Cliff, popular music in Britain at this time of year is blunt and unsentimental, even when charitable. But Americans indulge their sentimentality, pander to their idealism, reaffirm their belief in the spiritual contingency of human nature and their popular culture reflects that.

Nothing is too schmaltzy or saccharine. Even Hollywood for a brief moment casts aside its usual predilections and expresses a wide-eyed child-like thrill at the coming of Christmas. Radio stations become an endless loop of Christmas songs � not the typical �So Here it is Merry Christmas� British classic � but shameless repeats of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Harry Belafonte.

It�s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra�s hymn to sentimentalism, will doubtless get a look in somewhere in the British TV schedules, but in America it will own its usual spot, slap in the middle of NBC�s prime time on Christmas night and I guarantee that there will not be a dry eye in the country when once again George Bailey hears the bell ringing for Clarence, the angel who gets his wings.

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Slinky survives decades of ups, downs (Diana Nelson Jones, December 24, 2003, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first Slinkys -- 60 feet of gunmetal gray coiled steel wire -- appeared in plain brown boxes under Christmas trees in 1945. Then it cost $1. It sells today for $1.97 in the chain superstores, about 50 cents less than in smaller toy stores. Slinky still walks down the stairs, as long as it recognizes your staircase design, but a corporate companion now walks alongside it. [...]

In 1943, Richard James was working on a spring design for the Navy that would keep ship instruments from gyrating with the movement of the sea. A spring in his workshop either fell off a table or was somehow jostled and it took a step. Anyone who has ever seen Slinky take a step knows how cute that is. The wildly creative James quickly saw the possibilities.

He marketed Slinky as a toy two years later, and built a robust business. He would take an even bigger step in 1960, a jarring one for his family.

Tom James, who became the manager of special products under Poof, remembers the day his father dropped the bomb: "Pop came down the stairs one morning, and said, 'I'm going to Bolivia to become a missionary. Who's coming with me?' Mom, with six kids, had just had Becky. We had this 31-room home in Bryn Mawr, but he had bankrupted the business. He gave all the money to this mission.

"I had just graduated from high school. I was 18, and I took him to his plane.

"Pop used to say, 'Money means nothing to me,' and he would tear it up. I'd find it and tape it back together."

Richard James died years later in Bolivia. Meanwhile, Betty James had picked up the pieces. She and the children moved to this town of 5,700 in Huntingdon County, where she grew up. Largely under her tutelage, millions of Slinkys have been sold to date, thanks to the baby boom generation's devotion to the toys of its youth for its own offspring.

No pun intended.

[originally posted: 2003-12-24]

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America's Messiah (Michael Linton, December 1997, First Things)

But why, from Bangor to San Diego, do average Americans who would otherwise not listen to a note of classical music year after year make performances of this oratorio sell-outs? Why do they go? And what is the effect of Messiah's popularity upon our musical culture?

Certainly the primary reason for the oratorio's appeal lies in the quality of Handel's music itself. Messiah must rank as one of the greatest musical achievements of the eighteenth century. For all its misuse (I particularly remember Mobil using it to hail their motor oil), the "Hallelujah Chorus" remains a masterpiece of musical structure, the magnificence of the music not being the result of bombast, but rather the logical outcome of Handel's manipulation of antiphonal effects, stunning unisons, divided familiar-style and contrapuntal writing, and superimposed textures. The final chorus ("Worthy is the Lamb") contains choral writing the imagination of which would not be rivaled until Wagner composed Lohengrin four generations later, and the aria "Behold and See" is a model of economy and pathos. In its fifteen measures Handel seems to set the anguish of the whole world.

But it's not just the music. Great though Messiah may be, it can be argued that Handel's best work lies elsewhere. With some justification, cognoscenti are quick to prefer his Italian operas to his English oratorios. During Handel's lifetime, Judas Maccabaeus was more popular than Messiah, and the Reverend Charles Jennens, who provided Handel with Messiah's word book, liked the music in Samson much better. Late in life, the composer himself is reported to have said that his oratorio Theodora contained better writing. While Messiah is a masterpiece, it is but one of many from Handel's pen, masterpieces that have not endured so steadfastly as Messiah. Why?

I think the answer lies in the fact that for the last two hundred years, English-speaking Christianity, and in particular, American Christianity, has found a singularly eloquent vehicle for self-reflection in Messiah. Despite much talk to the contrary, religion remains deeply important to most Americans. But as many writers have noted, that religiosity is not denominational or even confessional in nature. Instead, it is individualistic, a matter of personal belief and individual choice not dictated by bishops, mediated by ritual, or regulated by the state. Furthermore, American Christianity is deeply eschatological, the sense of the impending eschaton being not so much a dread premonition of a coming doom, but rather a purposeful optimism. Americans work for and expect the eventual establishment of the kingdom of God, that "city on a hill."

Messiah speaks to such a Christianity. Although reminiscent of the lectionary texts from Advent through Trinity from the Book of Common Prayer, the oratorio cannot be said to be denominational (although the lack of passages dealing with Mary certainly gives it a distinctly Protestant cast). Its biblical texts are equally accessible to Episcopalians and National Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, and until fairly recently, could be said to be known by heart by almost all. Unlike Bach's cantatas and passions, the oratorio requires neither a liturgical setting nor a particular occasion for it to be grasped. And despite the current custom of abridged Christmas performances (an aberration largely the result of reduced attention spans), the oratorio is not seasonal. If the work points to anything at all, it is neither Christmas nor Easter but rather the Second Coming and the individual's faith in Christ's eventual triumph.

Messiah is a concert work for the concert hall, and very much in the mold of the modern Protestant sermon, which entertains its listener for the purpose of edifying him. Like his contemporary George Whitefield (who was also criticized for using theatrical devices for religious ends), Handel uses the conventions of the theater to compel his listener into a personal encounter with the scriptural texts. Messiah, contrary to most critics' readings, is highly dramatic. But its drama is an interior one, a personal confrontation between the individual listener and the story of salvation that Handel unfolds before him. To a population where that confrontation is the fulcrum of their lives, performances of Messiah become almost autobiographical.

It is because of the religious character of Americans that Messiah is so important here. And because of that religious character, it can be said that Messiah forms the foundation of America's art music culture. Not only do performances of the oratorio undergird the finances of many of the country's performing organizations, the work itself is the entrance of tens of thousands into the realm of classical music. It is not only the one classical piece that almost everyone will recognize (hence Madison Avenue's shameless exploitation of it), but in many cases it is the only major classical piece that most amateur musicians will themselves perform. My own case is not unusual. Messiah was the first piece of classical music I heard live, the first one I performed as an amateur singer, and the first one I conducted as a professional musician.

The cultural significance of Handel and his Messiah for American music cannot be overstated.

Was there ever a country better suited to understanding the awesomeness of the promise that "Every Valley Shall be Exalted"?

[originally posted: 12/24/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Washington Irving's English Christmas: An American essayist penned one of the best descriptions of the 19th-century British Christmas traditions, and in so doing helped restore many of these then-dying customs on both sides of the Atlantic. (James Munson, 12/25/04, British Heritage)

In 1822 Washington Irving left England. His writing and his diplomatic career took him to France, Germany, and Spain. Finally, in 1832 he returned to America where he settled at Tarrytown in New York State, the scene of his The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But of all his many other stories and essays, those concerning Christmas and the celebrations associated with it retain an immediacy that none of the others possess. Why do these sketches of Christmas long past still speak so directly to us? Washington Irving himself gave the answer: "There is a tone of sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment."

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Malthus And Scrooge (Jerry Bowyer, 12.25.08, Forbes)

"Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.'' "Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'' "If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

That phrase--surplus population--is what first tipped me off to Dickens' philosophical agenda. He's taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. Malthus, himself, had joined the surplus generation only nine years before. But his ideas have proved more durable.

Malthus taught the world to fear new people. An amateur economist, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. Populations grow, he said, geometrically, but wealth only grows arithmetically. In other words, new people create more new people, but new food doesn't create new food.

Malthus' influence, unfortunately, grew geometrically and not arithmetically. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction.

Hitler's hard eugenics and Sanger's (founder of Planned Parenthood) softer one, both owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus. So do the zero-growth, sustainable-growth, right-to-die, duty-to-die, life boat bio-ethicists who dominate so much of our intellectual discussion. Malthus turned out to be, ironically, right in some sense. His prediction of mass death has taken place; not because he was right, but because he was believed.

Dickens, I think, saw it first. Ebenezer Scrooge was clearly a Malthusian.

[originally posted: 12/25/08]

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OK, Virginia, There's No Santa Claus. But There Is God (TONY WOODLIEF, 12/25/08, Wall Street Journal)

As a parent, I believe (with the older apologists) that it's essential to preserve a small, inviolate space in the heart of a child, a space where he is free to believe impossibilities. The fantasy writer George MacDonald -- author of "The Light Princess" and "The Golden Key" -- whom Lewis esteemed as one of his greatest inspirations, suggested that it is only by gazing through magic-tinted eyes that one can see God: "With his divine alchemy," MacDonald wrote, "he turns not only water into wine, but common things into radiant mysteries." The obfuscating spirit of the "commonplace," meanwhile, is "ever covering the deep and clouding the high."

This sheds light on a seeming paradox in St. Paul's letter to Roman Christians: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. . . ." How does one see "invisible attributes"? Only people raised on fairy tales can make sense of that. It belongs in a terrain where magic glasses can illumine what was heretofore hidden, where rabbit holes open into wonderlands. No wonder some atheists like Mr. Dawkins want to kill Harry Potter.

I know Caleb and his brothers will figure out the Santa secret eventually, but I'm with Chesterton in resisting the elevation of science and reason to the exclusion of magic, of mystery, of faith. That's why I'm not giving up on Santa without a fight. Not everything we believe, I explain to Caleb, can be proved (or disproved) by science. We believe in impossible things, and in unseen things, beginning with our own souls and working outward. It's a delicate thing, preparing him to let go of Santa without simultaneously embracing the notion that only what can be detected by the five senses is real.

This all sounds like madness, I know, to people like Mr. Dawkins. But Chesterton held that believing in impossible things is actually the sanest position. "Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not," he hastened to add, "in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." The alternatives to embracing man's mystical condition, he argued, are either to go the way of the materialist, who understands everything according to scientific principles, yet for whom "everything does not seem worth understanding," or the madman, who in trying to "get the heavens into his head" shatters his rational (but woefully finite) mind.

Interestingly, the curse leveled by Lewis's White Witch on Narnia -- an endless season of winter absent Christmas -- evokes both: an unholy snow smothering wondrous creation in false uniformity, and at the same time a kind of madness well understood in snowbound regions. It's not surprising that one of the first signs of the Witch's coming demise is that Father Christmas appears: "'I've come at last,'" says Santa. "'She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last.'"

Oxford University Press recently announced that it will be dropping words like "dwarf," "elf" and "devil" from its children's dictionary to make room for words like "blog," "Euro," and "biodegradable" -- a blow not just to language but to the imagination. I'm sticking with Santa, however, knowing that my children will gradually exchange the fairy tales of youth for a faith -- I hope -- in mysteries that even diehard Christians seem increasingly embarrassed to admit as such. In our house, at least, there's no shame in believing the impossible.

[originally posted: 12/26/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Miracle on Red Square (Andrew E. Busch, December 2002, Ashbrook Center)
Amid The World's Favorite Christmas Carols are some old standards. A powerful chorus sings "The First Noel," "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," and "Joy to the World," including Isaac Watts' moving stanza "He rules the world with truth and grace/ And makes the nations prove/ The glories of His righteousness/ And wonders of His love." I listen in amazement.

Another choir begins with "Silent Night" and moves on. "God rest ye merry gentlemen," exclaims the baritone soloist with ever so slight an accent, "let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day." The chorus launches a beautiful, haunting, minor harmony. I get a lump in my throat.

The baritone continues. "'Fear not then' said the Angel, 'Let nothing you affright; This day is born a Saviour Of a pure virgin bright; To free all those that trust in Him from Satan's power and might.'" My eyes moisten.

"O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; o tidings of comfort and joy." I close my eyes. I fear not.

The performers? The latter, the Moscow Boys Choir, the former, the Red Army Chorus. That is to say, the chorus of the army whose purpose for three-quarters of a century was to spread communism, who threatened the free nations of the earth on nearly every continent, whose dearest wish was to put an end to Christmas for all people everywhere. The chorus of an army that for seven decades served a regime that destroyed thousands of churches, murdered tens of thousands of priests, sent millions of believers to the camps. The chorus of an army that, to speak much within compass, was the very representation in military form of "Satan's power and might."

At the end of the road, that power and might crumbled into nothingness. Christmas lived. The Party died; the church survived. Like cathedrals deliberately built over the ruins of pagan temples, the Red Army Chorus sings Christmas carols, and Marx, Lenin, and Stalin rotate in their tombs. God rest ye merry gentlemen.

Makes one downright Whiggish... [originally posted: 2002-12-15]
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A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

The clerk, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him.

'Scrooge and Marley's, I believe,' said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. 'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr Scrooge, or Mr Marley?'

'Mr Marley has been dead these seven years,' Scrooge replied. 'He died seven years ago, this very night.'

'We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,' said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was, for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word liberality, Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

'At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, 'it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.'

'Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.

'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

'And the Union workhouses.' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?'

'They are. Still,' returned the gentleman,' I wish I could say they were not.'

'The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said Scrooge.

'Both very busy, sir.'

'Oh. I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge. 'I'm very glad to hear it.'

'Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,' returned the gentleman, 'a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?'

'Nothing!' Scrooge replied.

'You wish to be anonymous?'

'I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. 'Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.'

'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'

'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'

Don't wanna reduce those survival pressures and mongrelize the species...

[originally posted: 2004-12-25]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


It's Not About the Manger (Chuck Colson, December 25, 2007, Townhall)

What image does the mention of Christmas typically conjure up? For most of us, it is a babe lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph, angels, and assorted animals look on.

Heartwarming picture, but Christmas is about far more than a Child's birth--even the Savior's birth. It is about the Incarnation: God Himself, Creator of heaven and earth, invading planet earth, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

It is a staggering thought. Think of it: The Word--that is, Logos in the Greek, which meant all the knowledge that could be known--the plan of creation--that is, ultimate reality--becomes mere man? And that He was not born of an earthly king and queen, but of a virgin of a backwater village named Nazareth? Certainly God delights in confounding worldly wisdom--and human expectations.

Of course, what makes the story so remarkable is that God discovers there is more to be known and is confounded by the experience of being a mere man--My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?--thus reconciling us to Him: Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.

[originally posted: 12/25/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Short History of a Tall Tree (THOMAS PAKENHAM, December 24, 2002, NY Times)
Those fortunate enough to be in London this Christmas season should stand under the neo-Classical portico of the National Gallery and cast their eyes to the south, where they will see something altogether delightful and unexpected. Below, in Trafalgar Square, this city's only great civic piazza, two pillars leap toward the heavens: Nelson's column and London's largest Christmas tree, a green spire of common spruce 60 feet high, lit with 1,000 bulbs and crowned with a star.

The tree, botanically known as Norway spruce, is appropriately a present from the people of Oslo--a tribute in gratitude for the help Britain gave them in World War II. Similar arboreal compliments are exchanged between other communities of the world; to the people of Boston comes a Christmas tree from Halifax, Nova Scotia, in gratitude for help in a fire in 1917. (In the spirit of civic pride, this year's tree at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, another Norway spruce, was donated by a family from New Jersey.)

This is the year to visit Trafalgar Square. For the first time in two centuries the great space is at peace with itself. The fetid tide of cars and trucks, sluiced down from Piccadilly Circus, has been banished to the south and east. So Nelson, the one-eyed adulterer, can be left to dream of his mistress Emma Hamilton amid the whir of London pigeons, and one can walk down to salute the Christmas tree without being knocked down by a bus.

For 150 years this species of evergreen has served as Britain's symbol of peace at Christmas--ever since Queen Victoria's German husband, Albert, set the fashion by putting a German-style Christmas tree in a drawing room at Windsor Palace.

Mr. Pakenham, who has written a couple of terrific books of colonial African history, is apparently also something of a tree buff; go figure. (Originally posted: 12/25/02)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Christmas Eve (Lillian Cox)
The soft light from a stable door Lies on the midnight lands; The wise men's star burns evermore, Over all the desert sands. Unto all peoples of the earth A little Child brought light; And never in the darkest place Can it be utter night. No flickering torch, no wavering fire, But Light the Life of men; Whatever clouds may veil the sky, Never is night again.
(Originally posted: 12/24/05)

December 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


But here's a treat for your iPhone/Ipod touch: iYule Log

[originally posted: 12/11/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 PM


The Christmas classic that almost wasn't (Bill Nichols, 12/05/05, USA TODAY)

When CBS bigwigs saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in November 1965, they hated it.

"They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: There was no laugh track, real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.

"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,' " Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.' "

Good grief, were they wrong. The first broadcast was watched by almost 50% of the nation's viewers. "When I started reading the reviews, I was absolutely shocked," says Melendez, 89. "They actually liked it!"

Television bigwigs certainly haven't evolved.

(Originally posted: 12/06/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:15 PM


It also has a medical tradition.: Mistletoe, a shrub both parasitic and romantic (Kathy Van Mullekom, 12/25/09, NEWPORT NEWS, VA., DAILY PRESS)

The plant's thick, green leathery leaves are evergreen and wedge- to egg-shaped and one to two inches long. Tiny yellow flowers bloom on the smooth, jointed stems in late fall, followed by round, white berries - only the female plant produces the fruits.

Mistletoe, botanically called Phoradendron serotinum (leucarpum) takes water and nutrients from the plant it grows on, but it also produces some chlorophyll and draws energy from the sun, says Hamilton.

Having no roots of their own, they produce structures called "sinkers" and "haustoria" that penetrate the host's tissue.

Found in almost every county in Virginia, American mistletoe thrives in trees from New Jersey to southern Ohio, southern Indiana and southern Missouri and south to Florida and Texas. Usually favoring a few species in any given area, it seems to especially like hickories and oaks.

During this time of year, mistletoe takes on a romantic role, hanging around the house and giving couples a place to kiss. The custom is said to have originated in Scandinavia where it was considered a place of peace - enemies and couples would make up under it.

[originally posted: 12/25/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 PM


Embracing Kwanzaa faith: What began in 1966 continues today teaching such things as community responsibility and self-determination (Nancy Ancrum, 12/26/07, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS)

Maisie McNaught's first encounter with Kwanzaa pretty much embodied its seven principles in one go.

More than 20 years ago, as a new mother looking to forge family traditions, she discovered a book on the African-inspired holiday at a black-owned bookstore. She joined forces with six other families to host dinners each night from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and got her husband to make a special holder called a kinara for the seven symbolic candles.

In the process, McNaught and her friends were Kwanzaa in action, exhibiting unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose and creativity.

"We could barely pronounce the Swahili words, but we decided to celebrate this thing," she says.

That confident plunge into the unknown was evidence of the final precept: faith.

"The principles of Kwanzaa seemed like the principles you need to teach your kids," says McNaught, 58, who sells African-made garments at her Miami Gardens, Fla., shop, Kulture Klothes by Isis.

[originally posted: 12/26/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 PM


Experts debunk December suicide myth (Karen Goldberg Goff, 12/23/09, Washington Times)

"It is totally a myth," says Dan Romer, research director of the Adolescent Communication Institute of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "December is actually a low point for suicides."

Mr. Romer has been tracking media reports of the December suicide myth in America for more than 10 years. He started at the turn of the millennium, when there was an uptick in the number of people who thought the world would end when the calendar hit 2000.

At that time, he found just 23 percent of news reports debunked the suicide myth. By 2006, 91 percent of stories were mentioning that the believed increase was not true. By last holiday season, however, Mr. Romer found that the number of reports debunking the myth was down to 62 percent, meaning more than one-third of stories were still reporting that suicides increase over the holidays.

The peak time for suicides is May, says Paula Clayton, a psychiatrist and medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Because it starts getting warm.

[originally posted: 12/23/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Holy Night: The little-known Jewish holiday of Christmas Eve. Seriously. (Benyamin Cohen, Dec. 23, 2009, Slate)

The Talmud, with its share of rabbinic repudiations against Jesus, was never a big fan of Christmas. Call it the Grinch. Indeed, the rabbis looked at it as a day of mourning--perhaps due to the suffering that Jews encountered in Jesus' name throughout history. And Christmas Eve--named "Nittel Nacht" by Jewish scholars in the 17th century--took on a life of its own. Some Jewish mystics were under the impression that many apostates were conceived on Christmas Eve (which is one reason the rabbis forbade sex on Dec. 24; more on that later). In Europe, the Jewish community was victim of more acts of violence on this night. All in all, it didn't end up being a festive evening for Jews.

And so the rabbis decreed that the public study hall be closed and that no Torah learning take place on this night. I guess it's our version of "Silent Night"--literally. The edict came about partially because of pogroms, but the leaders were also concerned about the popularly held belief in Judaism that studying the Torah brings spiritual benefit to the world at large. Many didn't want to make this positive contribution on what they considered a "pagan" night.

Bitter much?

[originally posted: 12/23/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


Charles Dickens: Father Christmas (Robert Fulford, 12/22/08, National Post)

No other writer ever devoted as much attention as he did to searching its meaning and using it as a moral standard and a way of piercing the public conscience. Christmas appeared in his first book, Pickwick Papers, and his last, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. One of his masterpieces, Great Expectations, has a melodramatic scene in which police break up a Christmas dinner while chasing an escaped convict, the character who becomes the fulcrum of the plot.

And then there's all the work Dickens directed specifically at this one subject. In the period 1843 to 1848, he wrote five novellas on Christmas themes, the first of them A Christmas Carol, perhaps his longest-lasting best-seller, crammed with mass-culture tokens from Tiny Tim and his "God bless us every one!" to the Scrooge character most recently put to use by Margaret Atwood in her book version of the Massey lectures, Payback.

When he was too busy to write more Christmas books, Dickens produced (between 1850 and 1867) a series of collaborations with other novelists, notably Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. He often wrote about Christmas in magazines, including the one he edited, Household Words.

This outpouring of Yuletide prose illustrates both the emotional life and social ideas of Dickens. When he was 12 his father's desperate money troubles abruptly fractured the family and soured a life that had been relatively comfortable. Stories he wrote in his first years as a journalist and author reflected his yearning for the happy Christmases of his lost childhood.

...where 1970s kids speak into the camera about how the toy they're playing with was the greatest gift they ever got and can't be replaced by the car their grown-up doppleganger is getting this year? Am I the only one who thinks the Big Wheel beats the pants off of whatever car it is they're pimping? And, of course, can't hold a candle to Erik the Viking:

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[originally posted: 12/23/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


A traditional Nativity scene, Catalan-style (Sarah Rainsford BBC News)

Outside Barcelona Town Hall, the Christmas crib takes pride of place on the cobblestones.

Mary, Joseph and the shepherds are all gathered around the baby Jesus in his manger, as loudspeakers emit the occasional animal sound for extra, rustic effect.

But this is Catalonia, and no crib is complete without one additional figure.

He is known in Catalan as the caganer. That translates most politely as 'the defecator' - and there he is, squatting under a tree with his trousers down. [...]

"It's typical of Catalonia. Each house buys one for Christmas," explains Natxo with a smile and a shrug as he shops. "I don't know why (we do it), it's just a tradition."

In fact, the caganer has been a feature of the Catalan nativity scene for at least two centuries.

"There was the legend that if a countryside man did not put a caganer in the nativity scene, he would have a very bad year collecting vegetables," explains Joan Lliteras, a caganer connoisseur.

He says the figurine is a symbol of fertility and good fortune.

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[originally posted: 12/24/10]

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Paul's story changes on racial comments (Jackie Kucinich, 12/22/11, USA TODAY)

In 1996, Paul told TheDallas Morning News that his comment about black men in Washington came while writing about a 1992 study by the National Center on Incarceration and Alternatives, a criminal justice think tank in Virginia.

Paul cited the study and wrote: "Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal."

"These aren't my figures," Paul told the Morning News. "That is the assumption you can gather from the report."

Nor did Paul dispute in 1996 his 1992 newsletter statement that said,"If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


A New Hezbollah in Iraq? (Irena L. Sargsyan, December 23, 2011, National Interest)

Like Hezbollah, the Sadrist Trend is becoming a well-organized, entrenched part of the Iraqi polity. With the Iraqi government unable to provide adequate security and services, al-Sadr has stepped in with action and rhetoric that resonate with the Shia masses. He is following the same playbook that Hezbollah used to gain strength in Lebanon. [...]

Similar factors--centuries-long oppression of Shia, poor socioeconomic conditions and foreign occupation--gave rise to two Islamist movements: Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982 and the Sadrist Trend in Iraq in 2003. Systematic persecution made the Lebanese and Iraqi Shia susceptible to appeals from radical groups and leaders who promised change and challenged the quiescent Shia politicians. All that was needed was a catalyst. For Lebanon, it was thecivil war (1975-90), which led to the occupation by Israel in 1982. For Iraq, it was the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003, which created political and security vacuums resulting in ethnic and sectarian violence. These developments prompted the disenfranchised Shia communities in each country to mobilize to redress their long-standing grievances. [...]

The Sadrist Trend has evolved into an organized, mature force, while Moktada al-Sadr has gained enough political leverage to resolve the crisis that followed the 2010 parliamentary elections. Furthermore, al-Sadr has burnished his religious credibility: Though not yet a senior cleric (ayatollah) authorizedto issue religious edicts (fatwa), he extends to his followers guidance on religious as well as political matters. Al-Sadr's stature and pattern of leadership are reminscient of those of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Report: Hamas agrees to join PLO (JPOST.COM STAFF AND KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 12/22/2011, Jerusalem Post)

Hamas on Thursday agreed to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, according to an Associated Press report.

Senior Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal joined an election committee that will prepare PLO elections, AP reported.

On Tuesday, the factions reached an agreement on the formation of a central elections commission to prepare for presidential and parliamentary votes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Shocker: Mitt Romney Winning Tea Party Vote in New Hampshire (KENRIC WARD, December 19, 2011, Sunshine State News)

Romney beat Ron Paul among tea partiers, 29 percent to 21 percent, the Public Policy Polling survey reported. It was the first time Romney has carried a plurality of tea party voters, with whom the former Massachusetts governor has had chilly relations.

And in a possible leading indicator heading to Florida, Romney garnered 50 percent of the senior vote in the New Hampshire poll conducted by the Democratic-leaning PPP.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


A Hanukkah letter to the hilltop youth (Shlomo Riskin, 12/22/11, Ha'aretz)

You consider yourselves the new Hasmoneans, the Maccabees who do not bow their heads before the Hellenizing priestly establishment, which today, you believe, wears the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. Because you are convinced that all your deeds are for the sake of heaven, you will never admit that you have sinned. And without recognition of sin, there is no repair and no repentance and no atonement.

I am telling you that you are making a fundamental mistake. If a country can be sacred, if there is sanctity in earth and stones, then isn't it clear that a fortiori there is sanctity in man - whether Arab or Jew - who was created in God's image? Don't you understand that there is no "portion of God from above," as Job described it, in furrows of earth, but that there certainly is in peaceful Palestinians?

Do you have any idea how great that "portion of God" is in Col. Ran Kahane, the commander of the Ephraim Brigade, and in each and every one of his soldiers, who daily risk their lives to defend yours and those of your families from the terrorists who are working to take them? How do you dare to desecrate these holy people? How did it enter your minds to take on the role of our enemies, the terrorists? How did your love of the land become so distorted that it turned into love of bricks and cement and caused you to forget all the rest?

You did not throw stones at me, and still you have mortally wounded me. You have stolen from me one of the assets most sacred to me. I love the Land of Israel with all my heart and all my might. I left the United States, my birthplace, to help to build my beloved city of Efrat and to be built up in it. Wherever and whenever I speak - and I have had the privilege of appearing and speaking all over the world - I present myself as a "proud settler." And you have robbed this pride from me. You have turned the term "settler" into a dirty word. You have caused me to be ashamed of being a settler, to be ashamed to be called by the same name as those whose love for the land has turned into hatred of human beings.

The Torah is filled with the praises of the Land of Israel, but it never commands us to "love" the land. It commands us to "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18 ).
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Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Payroll Tax Cut Could End Social Security (DAVID HOGBERG, 12/22/11,INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY)

Few analysts doubt that the payroll tax eventually will be renewed beyond 2012. And that could be a slippery slope to ending Social Security.

"If the argument is that a 2% payroll tax cut helps job creation, then why not 4% or 6%?" Fichtner asked. "Why not get rid of the entire payroll tax if it is holding back job creation?"

But that would mean Social Security will no longer be funded by the payroll tax but by transfers from general revenues. That could change the perception, real or not, that Social Security is an earned retirement pension.

"It becomes a welfare program, and a lot of people will think that they're not paying into the system and want to cut back on Social Security," Fichtner said.'s not welfare if I receive it.  It's welfare if the coloreds get it.

December 22, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Two Dutch TV Hosts Ate Each Other's Flesh On Air (DASHIELL BENNETT, 12/21/11, Atlantic Wire)

The hosts of a Dutch TV program left a bad taste in some viewers mouths when they cooked and ate human flesh on air last night. Presenters Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno each had small pieces of flesh surgically removed from their buttocks and stomach during taped segments, then a chef fried the pieces in front of an audience and served them as part of a candlelight dinner.

Europe can't go Muslim fast enough.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


New Focus on Incendiary Words in Paul's Newsletters (JIM RUTENBERG and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr., 12/21/11, NY Times)

A 1992 passage from the Ron Paul Political Report about the Los Angeles riots read, "Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks." A passage in another newsletter asserted that people with AIDS should not be allowed to eat in restaurants because "AIDS can be transmitted by saliva"; in 1990 one of his publications criticized Ronald Reagan for having gone along with the creation of the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which it called "Hate Whitey Day."

The magazine article largely matched a similar report in The New Republic in 2008, and it was written by the same author, James Kirchick. The passages were plucked from a variety of newsletters that Mr. Paul's consulting business published during his years out of Congress, all of them featuring his name: Ron Paul Political Report, Ron Paul's Freedom Report, Ron Paul Survival Report and Ron Paul Investment Letter.

Mr. Paul did not respond to an interview request, but repudiated the writings in 2008. Likening himself to a major news publisher, he said he did not vet every article that was featured in his newsletters. "I absolutely, honestly do not know who wrote those things," Mr. Paul said in an interview on CNN at the time, adding that he did not monitor the publications closely because he was busy with a medical practice and "speeches around the country."

...the inability to supervise even a Mom-and-Pop operation would be disqualifying in someone seeking to govern the entire Republic.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


What Condi Rice Would Bring to the Republican Ticket: Amid the chaos of the GOP presidential field, the former secretary of state's name has emerged as a powerful potential running mate. (Keli Goff , 12/21/11, Daily Beast)

When the "Cain Train" crashed and burned, political observers presumed that the biggest beneficiary from Herman Cain's self-destruction would be Newt Gingrich. In the short term, they were right. But we now know that in the long term, the biggest beneficiary of Cain's meltdown was not in the race for president, but in the unofficial race for vice president featuring newly anointed frontrunner, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In 2004, Rice's popularity was credited with helping to save the presidency of George W. Bush. A CNN poll at the time revealed that 54% of Americans did not believe the president had done all that he could to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Then his National Security Advisor--the first black woman to serve in the role--appeared before the 9/11 Commission. After her testimony, the number of Americans that believed the president had not done enough dropped to 40%. Now GOP insiders are hoping her popularity can help save the party.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


The Coming Latino Catholic Majority: Hispanics account for more than 70 percent of the growth in the US Catholic population since 1960. (Jeff Ziegler, 12/01/11, Catholic World Report)

In 1940, when only 1.9 million out of America's 132.2 million people were Hispanic, a discussion of a Latino majority of United States Catholics would have appeared fanciful--as fanciful as an 1840 prediction that the majority of Catholics in the United States would soon be Irish. Ten months before Pearl Harbor, the appointment of Bishop Robert Lucey as archbishop of San Antonio placed Hispanics on the radar screen of bishops across the country.

As was common for many prelates of his era, Archbishop Lucey backed the New Deal, built 40 parishes, invited 30 religious institutes into his archdiocese, and supported the Vietnam War, delivering the invocation at President Lyndon Johnson's inauguration. Archbishop Lucey was appalled by the poverty and discrimination experienced by local Hispanics, who could not serve on juries in some parts of the state before the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Hernandez v. Texas. The prelate was the driving force behind the formation of the US Bishops' Committee for the Spanish-Speaking in 1945; he actively promoted catechesis, sought improved health care for Mexican-Americans, and called for higher wages for migrant workers.

In 1970, Archbishop Lucey was one of the co-consecrators of Bishop Patrick Flores, the first Hispanic bishop in the United States. Since then, nearly 50 Hispanic priests have been ordained bishops. Today, some 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, accounting for more than 70 percent of the growth in US Catholic population since 1960. Hispanics form the majority of Catholics under 35, and the majority of Catholics in the United States will be Hispanic in the decades ahead, though recent estimates of when exactly this will occur vary from 2025 to 2035.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, director for Hispanic/Latino Affairs at the US bishops' conference, told CWR that "the Catholic Church in the United States will benefit from a young, vibrant population that has a profound faith in God...a strong sense of family and community, an authentic Marian devotion and rich Catholic popular practices, [and] a need to feel God's presence in daily life and in ministry through vibrant apostolic movements."

Hispanic Catholics today

The number of Hispanics in the United States grew from 1.9 million in 1940, to 14.6 million in 1990, to 50.5 million in 2010, according to US Census Bureau data. Of these, 31.8 million are Mexican-American, 4.6 million are Puerto Rican, 1.8 million are Cuban-American, and 1.6 million are Salvadoran-American. Hispanics today do not uniformly assent to "popery": 68 percent of US Hispanics are Catholic, according to a 2007 report by the Pew Research Center, while 15 percent are Evangelical Protestants and 8 percent profess no religion.

"The number of Hispanics self-identifying as Catholics has declined from nearly 100 percent in just two decades, while the number who describe themselves as Protestant has nearly doubled and the number saying they have 'no religion' has also doubled," Archbishop Gomez noted in a 2009 talk.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


FBI Pulls Off 'Perfect Hedge' to Nab New Insider Trading Class (Patricia Hurtado, Dec 20, 2011, Bloomberg)

Almost five years ago, in a conference room 23 stories above the plaza, FBI agents David Chaves and Patrick Carroll surveyed the midtown skyline to the north, home to much of the world's financial industry. They had received some disturbing intelligence: a surge in profits at hedge funds might be the result of an epidemic of insider trading.

The two men, head of securities and commodities fraud units at the New York office, faced a dilemma. Informants had told them the hedge fund industry was similar to organized crime: insular and distrusting of outsiders. Without people on the inside, the government would have a tough time gathering enough evidence to prosecute. They needed more tools to gather more information on traders who move faster, and more secretly, than your typical Mafia soldier.

"It was reminiscent of that scene in 'Jaws' where they get their first look at the shark," Chaves said. He told Carroll, "We're going to need a bigger boat."

That bigger boat came in the form of a landmark change in the way white-collar crime is investigated in the U.S., agents said. The only way to uncover insider trading was to apply the same techniques agents used to dismantle the Mafia: court- authorized wiretaps of phones, informants and cooperating witnesses.

At that moment, "Perfect Hedge" was born. This is the behind-the-scenes story of that historic, sprawling, nationwide insider-trading initiative by those who ran it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


"It's a Wonderful Life" Is Communist Propaganda: Plus Cary Grant almost played George Bailey and more fun facts about the Christmas classic (Johnny Goodtimes, 12/20/11, Philly Post)
3. Vincent Price was among the actors who tried out for the role of Mr. Potter. Ginger Rogers was offered the part of Mary but turned it down. The script was originally written with Cary Grant in mind, but he did The Bishop's Wife instead. Capra bought the script and revised it under the auspices that Jimmy Stewart would take the role.

4. The town of Bedford Falls was just a set, and was torn down after the movie was filmed. However, the gym floor that opened into a pool actually existed then, and still exists now, at Beverly Hills High School. The Martini house in "Bailey Park" is also still standing, in La Canada Flintridge, California, and is a private residence. Seneca Falls, NY, claims to be the town the movie was based on, and there is a "It's a Wonderful Life" museum located there. Strangely, it is closed on Christmas Day.

5. The scene where Uncle Billy leaves the house drunk and then crashes into what sound like garbage cans off screen? A crew member had in fact accidentally dropped some equipment right then, and Thomas Mitchell (playing Uncle Billy) ad libbed, "I'm alright! I'm alright!"

6. Why is George Bailey sweating so much when he's on the bridge? Because they were filming in July, and it was 90 degrees when they shot that scene.

7. The young man who opened the swimming pool and looked like Alfalfa? Just as you may have suspected, that was indeed Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer.

8. Bobby Anderson played young George Bailey in the film, and the next year had a bit part in The Bishop's Wife. In the 1990s, he worked as a production assistant on Passenger 57 and Demolition Man. That's right: Sly Stallone has one degree of separation from It's a Wonderful Life.

And the story started out on a Christmas card.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM

Hot Garlic Shrimp with Red Pepper Flakes (The Denver Post, 12/21/11)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced very fine

2-3 pinches red pepper flakes, crushed

16 medium shelled shrimp

Juice of 1 lemon

A little chopped chive, for garnish


Add olive oil to skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook 1 minute, then add shrimp. Cook 4-5 minutes, turning once or twice, until shrimp is cooked. Remove to a plate, pour hot oil over, squeeze with lemon and top with chive (and more pepper flakes if desired).

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM

YOU SERVED YOUR PURPOSE (via The Other Brother):

A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party: Even as the movement's grip tightens on the GOP, its influence is melting away across vast swaths of America, thanks to centuries-old regional traditions that few of us understand. (Colin Woodard, November/December 2011, The Washingtonian)

When 2011 began, the Tea Party movement had reason to think it had seized control of Maine. Their candidate, Paul LePage, the manager of a chain of scrappy surplus-and-salvage stores, had won the governor's mansion on a promise to slash taxes, regulations, spending, and social services. Republicans had captured both houses of the state legislature for the first time in decades, to the surprise of the party's leaders themselves. Tea Party sympathizers had taken over the GOP state convention, rewriting the party's platform to demand the closure of the borders, the elimination of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of Education, a prohibition on stimulus spending, a "return to the principles of Austrian Economics," and a prohibition on "any participation in efforts to create a one world government." A land developer had been put in charge of environmental protection, a Tea Party activist was made economic development chief, and corporate lobbyists served as the governor's key advisers. A northern New England state's rather liberal Democrats and notoriously moderate Republican establishment had been vanquished.

Or so they thought.

Less than a year later, it's Maine's Tea Party that's on the wane. Prone to temper tantrums and the airing of groundless accusations, Governor LePage--who won office by less than two points in a five-way race, with just 38 percent of the vote--quickly alienated the state party chair and GOP legislative leadership. His populist credentials were damaged when it was revealed that much of his legislative agenda-- including a widely condemned proposal to roll all state environmental laws back to weak federal baselines--had been literally cut and pasted from memos sent to his office by favored companies, industrial interests, or their lobbyists. His economic development commissioner was forced to step down after allegedly insulting several (previously friendly) audiences, while a court ruled that his environmental protection nominee violated conflict-of-interest provisions. He triggered international media coverage, a lawsuit, and large protests after removing a mural depicting the history of Maine's labor movement from the Department of Labor because an anonymous constituent compared it to North Korean "brainwashing." Eight of twenty GOP state senators blasted the governor's bellicose behavior in an op-ed carried in the state's newspapers, the largest of which declared in April that "the LePage era is over." Power in the state's diminutive capital, Augusta, now resides with the senate president, a Republican moderate who was Senator Olympia Snowe's longtime chief of staff.

The Tea Party itself has been all but destroyed in Maine by its association with the debt ceiling hostage takers in Washington, according to Andrew Ian Dodge, founder of the organization Maine Tea Party Patriots and the state movement's most high-profile activist. "There were people saying, 'Yes, I think we should default,' and there were the rest of us saying, 'You're insane,' " says Dodge, a dark-horse challenger to Snowe. "Now I'm emphasizing my Tea Party links even less because a lot of people think they are the crazy people who almost drove us off a cliff."

Indeed, in much of the northern tier of the country, the Tea Party has seen a similar reversal of fortune. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker--who won by just 6 percent-- has faced powerful resistance to his deregulatory, antiunion, antigovernment agenda, including the recall of two of his senatorial allies; his political future is uncertain. In Massachusetts, Tea Party-backed Senator Scott Brown has emerged as a moderate Yankee Republican along the lines of Snowe. In New Hampshire, Tea Party organizer Jack Kimball stepped down as state party chair this September after losing the confidence of the state's leading Republicans. "This is the establishment Republicans versus the Tea Party that helped get them into office,'' one angry Tea Party activist said of Kimball's departure. "They rode us in, now they're bringing us back to the barn.''

Leaving behind only piles of dung for others to clean up.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Romney: If known there was no WMD, U.S. wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq (Domenico Montanaro, 12/21/11, NBC News)

Mitt Romney today said if the United States knew that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, it would not have gone to war in the country.

"If we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in," Romney told NBC's Chuck Todd on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" this morning from New Hampshire.

Saddam was never going to survive W's presidency.  9-11 was just a handy pretext.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Will British people ever think in metric? (Jon Kelly, 12/21/11, BBC News Magazine)

It is 200 years since Napoleon backtracked on his grand scheme to make his empire metric, but today the British remain unique in Europe by holding onto imperial weights and measures. With the UK's relationship with its neighbours under scrutiny, can it ever adopt the metric mindset?

It's an existential question that reveals much about how you make sense of the world. Is your ballpoint pen 6in long or 15cm?

Do you buy petrol by the gallon or the litre? Cheese by the ounce or the gram? And just how far is Dover from Calais - 21 miles or 34km?

Call it a proud expression of national identity or a stubborn refusal to engage with the neighbours. Either way, the persistent British preference for imperial over metric is particularly noteworthy at a time when its links with Europe are under greater scrutiny than ever.

Anti-rationalist peoples will never adopt Rationalist measures.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


King Arthur's (Web) recipe for success (Stephen Mills, 12/21/11, Burlington Free Press)

King Arthur Flour is America's oldest flour company, established 1790, a year into George Washington's presidency.

So how does a company that makes flour and bread -- an ancient art -- win national awards and acclaim for its business practices in the 21st century?

Quite simply, the company has become the toast of the town among the technocrati of e-commerce.

With the economy flagging, many companies turned to enhanced e-retailing to capture more sales, offering free shipping and additional savings for shopping online. King Arthur Flour is no different, relying heavily on its website,, to sell its products and services that can also be found at its "Norwich, Vermont bakery, school and store"-- a sponsorship refrain often heard on Vermont Public Radio, which also calls it "home" for its company-sponsored studio there.

But to maximize online sales, King Arthur Flour redesigned its website to allow its offerings to be displayed on any-size screen, including phone, tablet or desktop. And it did so without having to write exotic or expensive software programs for each device.

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December 21, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


What kind of society does America want? (Mitt Romney, 12/20/11, USA Today)
In less than a year, the American people will go to the polls and choose a new president. A matter of great moment is at stake in this election. The question we will decide is this: Will the United States be an Entitlement Society or an Opportunity Society?

In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy.

Of course, the notion that, in the absence of government, a black kid in LA has the same opportunity as a Romney is asinine on its face.  So the question isn't Opportunity or Entitlement, but how to use entitlements to boost opportunity.  That, after all, is all that school vouchers, for instance, amount to.  The future of the GOP lies in a sort of defined contribution entitlement system (the Third Way) as opposed to the Democrats' insistence on a defined benefit entitlement system (the Second Way).  The First Way is, however, dead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Happy Hanukkah, Marines!: Jewish Leathernecks light the way. (WILLIAM MCGURN, 12/20/11, WSJ)

[M]y experience has been such that I once put this question to a Jewish colleague who had also served in the Corps: "Why is it," I asked, "that every Jew I know seems to be a Marine, the father of a Marine, or the son of a Marine?"

He didn't skip a beat. "Well, we quickly found out that controlling all the levers of international finance wasn't enough. We needed an elite fighting force to defend it."

Being Jewish in the Marine Corps certainly brings its own perspective. In an article for Commentary magazine, Sam Jacobson wrote of his experiences as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq. At one point, his men--hoping he might get them out of some unpleasant duty--invoked Moses, beseeching their young lieutenant to lead them out of bondage.

Another time, a fellow officer spotted his religious preference on his dog tags. "I didn't know you were Jewish, Jacobson," he said. "It's good that it says it here. That way when you're captured, al Qaeda will know to arrange for kosher meals."

No Jew who has earned the eagle, anchor and globe believes himself any better than any other Marine. He may, however, be permitted a special affinity for a brotherhood that calls itself the few and the proud. As these Marines and their families kindle the first lights of the Hanukkah menorah, even those of us who do not share their faith gladly join them in giving thanks for righteous men willing to risk all to deliver us from oppression.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


The weightless Lib Dem rationalists will end up looking rather quaint In the decade to come, technocracy and modernity will fade, and people will likely turn back to the old religious illusions (Andrew Brown, 12/20/11, The Guardian)

[A]ll the interesting decisions in the world are those we make under constraints. They are the realistic choices that we make when we don't have the time, the knowledge, or the power to ensure they're right; and can't, in any case, have all we want. The choices that matter are always renunciations. They are what the real political battles are about.

In economics, that's becoming painfully obvious. For most of us, the credit has, quite literally, run out. The freedom to shop appears now to be debt servitude. I think it is the disappointment with that dream that has driven, as much as anything, the riots, and the Occupy protests. It's not yet disillusionment: the looting rioter is living the dream the only way he can. But disillusionment will follow from repeated disappointments.

Similarly, the free sexual marketplace turns out not to be the recipe for happiness. It's another arena where the strong make the rules and the weak suffer. Monogamy is probably the earliest and most successful human experiment in taming the power of markets and harnessing them to social use. And this reflection, painfully learned, leads away from the idea that whatever consenting adults do must be OK. (This is a reflection that has nothing to do with homosexuality but a great deal to do with marriage).

When the dream that life should be more like shopping fades, we won't suddenly grow up. There will be new illusions, other dreams. These need not be religious, though I think they will be, if only because religions are better - have more experience - at claiming that they're true. This is, of course, the thing that modernity is meant to hate about them most. But this dislike of other people's claim to truth is based on the unspoken assumption that we know better. And we don't. 

Which reminds us of some of our favorite quotes, reflecting the fundamental insight of the Anglosphere:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Rom 7:18,19) 

Should a traveler, returning from a far country, bring us an account of men, wholly different from any with whom we were ever acquainted; men, who were entirely divested of avarice, ambition, or revenge; who knew no pleasure but friendship, generosity, and public spirit; we should immediately, from these circumstances, detect the falsehood, and prove him a liar, with the same certainty as if he had stuffed his narration with stories of centaurs and dragons, miracles and prodigies. (David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

"Freedom is, in truth, a sacred thing. There is only one thing else that better deserves the name: virtue. But then what is virtue if not the free choice of what is good?"  (Alexis de Tocqueville)

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.  (Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics)

"Character is the accumulated confidence that individual men and women acquire from years of doing the right thing, over and over again, even when  they don't feel like it. People with character understand that their lives are filled with events and choices that are significant, above all, not because of the short term success or failure of the search for money or position, but because the choices we make are actually making us into one kind of person, or another. Our life of choices is a life-long labor to make ourselves into a person who has begun to respond adequately to the awesome gift we received from God when He made us in His image."  (Alan Keyes)

[W]e may well designate the moral cynics, who know no law beyond their will and interest, with a scrptural designation of "children of this world" or "children of darkness." Those who believe that self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher law could then be termed "the children of light."  (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Don't set the people free: many poor souls need institutions, but the ideologues and cost-cutters insist on giving them autonomy (Theodore Dalrymple, 12/14/02, The Spectator)

It should not be necessary to explain a praiseworthy revulsion. (Mark Helprin, Chanukah in the Age of Guys and Dolls)

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Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


US tops world charitable giving index (BBC, 12/21/11)

The US has been rated as the world's most charitable country in 2011 by the Charities Aid Foundation's (CAF) World Giving Index, up from fifth in 2010.

The Irish Republic came second, then Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Scandal Over Mediator, a French Weight-Loss Drug, Prompts Calls for Wide Changes (SCOTT SAYARE, 12/11/11, NY Times)

In 33 years on pharmacy shelves here, the diabetes drug Mediator was prescribed to an estimated five million French patients, many of them diabetics, many others hoping simply to lose weight. When French authorities ordered the drug off the market in 2009, alerted to possible cardiovascular risks, there were 300,000 active prescriptions.

Mediator and its enigmatic French manufacturer, Laboratoires Servier, a privately held company with a troubled past, find themselves at the center of France's largest public-health scandal in at least a decade. Health officials estimate that as many as 2,000 people died, with thousands more hospitalized, victims of cardiac valve damage and pulmonary hypertension apparently linked to the drug.

Politicians and the press have pilloried Servier, charging that it concealed the dangers of Mediator for decades and insisting that the company has a wider history of disregarding health concerns about its products. Many have noted that two Servier weight-loss products, both closely related to Mediator, were at the center of the fen-phen scandal of the late 1990s in the United States.

In France, government investigators have accused Servier of licensing Mediator as a diabetes drug to avoid scrutiny, but urging doctors to prescribe the pills as a diet aid to bolster sales -- a practice that greatly expanded the pool of those potentially harmed by the drug. Magistrates are investigating the company on charges of consumer fraud and manslaughter, and a public prosecutor has charged Servier with defrauding the French health care system. Trials are expected next year.

There are broader implications, as well. Drug makers have long viewed France's pharmaceutical oversight apparatus as being relatively permissive, in particular as compared with the United States Food and Drug Administration, which industry and some patient groups criticize as overly cautious. French political leaders say that the Mediator scandal has exposed the failings of the country's regulatory system, which they have described as rife with conflicts of interest and marked by a distinct apathy toward questions of public health.

...that the French are willing to trade dead Frenchmen for staying skinny?

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Margaret Sanger and the War on Compassion : A new book attempts to airbrush a eugenicist's sins from history. (CHUCK DONOVAN & NORA SULLIVAN, 12/21/11, National Review)

Sanger had many famed eugenicists among her close friends and colleagues, and she worked closely for years with the American Eugenics Society. Baker asserts that "anti-choice" revisionists are seeking to distort Sanger's views and that, in Sanger's time, most of the American public supported eugenics. Baker writes that eugenics "promoted enlightened parenthood and raising healthy children." Baker implies that eugenicism was far more positive in Sanger's day and that, despite the thousands of forced sterilizations (which Sanger openly approved of and Sanger defenders tend to downplay), it was meant to improve heredity and society. Baker also implies that while there may have been some bad eugenicists, Sanger was a good one, intent on improving the lives of others. An earlier biographer, Ellen Chesler, suggests that Sanger "invited the support of powerful eugenicists, whose underlying assumptions were a good deal more offensive than her own."

But the eugenicist thorn that persistently sticks in everyone's side is Margaret Sanger herself. Ever the radical feminist, she insisted on speaking for herself, and, to this day, her words stand on their own.

"Restriction should be an order as well as an ideal of the family and the race," she wrote. Greatly influenced by her friend and mentor the neo-Malthusian thinker Havelock Ellis (co-founder of Great Britain's Eugenic Education Society), Sanger strongly believed in a "qualitative" not "quantitative" factor for the human race. There was an ideal for humanity, and those who failed to meet Sanger's standards in terms of physical condition and mental capacity, and those prone to alcoholism or epilepsy, were less "fit" human beings and less worthy of the freedoms that she apparently held so dear. They were the "weeds" of the human garden, and they must be plucked. In her 1922 work, Pivot of Civilization, Sanger remarked that the state should respond with either "force or persuasion" when "the incurably defective are permitted to procreate."

Most tellingly, perhaps, in her 1920 book, Woman and the New Race, Sanger referred to birth control as "nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives, or those who would become defective." Her great crusade for birth control was less about helping women and more about preventing the birth of those she deemed to be "unfit."

The point isn't that she was a Nazi, but that she and they shared the same view of biology.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Welcome to Amazon Town: Retired 'Workampers' Flock to Remote Towns for Temporary Gigs; RV Parks Are Full (STU WOO, 12/20/11, WSJ)

Amazon, the world's biggest e-commerce purveyor, sees a sales spike every fourth quarter, when it makes nearly 40% of its more than $34 billion in annual revenue. To meet that surge, the Seattle-based company hires hundreds of temporary workers at each of its 34 U.S. warehouses.

A spokeswoman for Amazon, which has 51,000 staffers excluding seasonal workers world-wide, said it hires "thousands" of temporary workers for the holidays, but declined to disclose specific numbers. It said it quadrupled its staff at its warehouse in Phoenix to 1,200 to handle the end-of-year rush.

Many of these employees belong to the community of "workampers," a sort of modern-day migrant worker. Many of them are retirees who spend all or part of the year living in RVs and taking odd seasonal jobs around the country. While some workers really need the money, others said they take the gigs to help fund their adventures or just for fun.

Many current and former seasonal workers said Amazon pays decent wages--about $12 an hour plus overtime in Fernley, which is about 50% better than minimum wage here. But that is in exchange for long hours and tedious labor.

"It's like the best place to work and the worst place to work," said Kelly Andrus, a 50-year-old Fernley resident who served as an Amazon holiday employee seven years ago. "It's good pay, and they're safety oriented," but she said the managers were strict and the labor was physically demanding.

Workers can be on their feet for hours fetching items from shelves, packing boxes and preparing incoming items for storage. Many said they lose five pounds or more in a few weeks. Earlier this year, Amazon was on the defensive after an Allentown, Pa., newspaper reported that more than a dozen workers collapsed inside the local warehouse there because of the summer heat. The company said employee safety was its top concern and that it had urgently installed air conditioning.

Holiday hiring surges are common in online retailing. At online electronics retailer Newegg Inc., a spokeswoman said the company boosts warehouse and customer-service headcount by about 130, or roughly 20%, during the holidays.

Our season just finished on Friday, cutting the workforce by about half.  I always tell the guys I train that the first thing they'll want to do is go buy the most comfortable pair of sneakers/shoes they can find.  It's less the distance you walk than the unforgiving nature of a warehouse floor that gets to you.

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December 20, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us (Jonah Lehrer   December 16, 2011, Wired)

This assumption--that understanding a system's constituent parts means we also understand the causes within the system--is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry or even to biology. It defines modern science. In general, we believe that the so-called problem of causation can be cured by more information, by our ceaseless accumulation of facts. Scientists refer to this process as reductionism. By breaking down a process, we can see how everything fits together; the complex mystery is distilled into a list of ingredients. And so the question of cholesterol--what is its relationship to heart disease?--becomes a predictable loop of proteins tweaking proteins, acronyms altering one another. Modern medicine is particularly reliant on this approach. Every year, nearly $100 billion is invested in biomedical research in the US, all of it aimed at teasing apart the invisible bits of the body. We assume that these new details will finally reveal the causes of illness, pinning our maladies on small molecules and errant snippets of DNA. Once we find the cause, of course, we can begin working on a cure.

The problem with this assumption, however, is that causes are a strange kind of knowledge. This was first pointed out by David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher. Hume realized that, although people talk about causes as if they are real facts--tangible things that can be discovered--they're actually not at all factual. Instead, Hume said, every cause is just a slippery story, a catchy conjecture, a "lively conception produced by habit." When an apple falls from a tree, the cause is obvious: gravity. Hume's skeptical insight was that we don't see gravity--we see only an object tugged toward the earth. We look at X and then at Y, and invent a story about what happened in between. We can measure facts, but a cause is not a fact--it's a fiction that helps us make sense of facts.

The truth is, our stories about causation are shadowed by all sorts of mental shortcuts. Most of the time, these shortcuts work well enough. They allow us to hit fastballs, discover the law of gravity, and design wondrous technologies. However, when it comes to reasoning about complex systems--say, the human body--these shortcuts go from being slickly efficient to outright misleading.

Consider a set of classic experiments designed by Belgian psychologist Albert Michotte, first conducted in the 1940s. The research featured a series of short films about a blue ball and a red ball. In the first film, the red ball races across the screen, touches the blue ball, and then stops. The blue ball, meanwhile, begins moving in the same basic direction as the red ball. When Michotte asked people to describe the film, they automatically lapsed into the language of causation. The red ball hit the blue ball, which caused it to move.

This is known as the launching effect, and it's a universal property of visual perception. Although there was nothing about causation in the two-second film--it was just a montage of animated images--people couldn't help but tell a story about what had happened. They translated their perceptions into causal beliefs.

Michotte then began subtly manipulating the films, asking the subjects how the new footage changed their description of events. For instance, when he introduced a one-second pause between the movement of the balls, the impression of causality disappeared. The red ball no longer appeared to trigger the movement of the blue ball. Rather, the two balls were moving for inexplicable reasons.

Michotte would go on to conduct more than 100 of these studies. Sometimes he would have a small blue ball move in front of a big red ball. When he asked subjects what was going on, they insisted that the red ball was "chasing" the blue ball. However, if a big red ball was moving in front of a little blue ball, the opposite occurred: The blue ball was "following" the red ball.

There are two lessons to be learned from these experiments. The first is that our theories about a particular cause and effect are inherently perceptual, infected by all the sensory cheats of vision. (Michotte compared causal beliefs to color perception: We apprehend what we perceive as a cause as automatically as we identify that a ball is red.) While Hume was right that causes are never seen, only inferred, the blunt truth is that we can't tell the difference. And so we look at moving balls and automatically see causes, a melodrama of taps and collisions, chasing and fleeing.

The second lesson is that causal explanations are oversimplifications. This is what makes them useful--they help us grasp the world at a glance. For instance, after watching the short films, people immediately settled on the most straightforward explanation for the ricocheting objects. Although this account felt true, the brain wasn't seeking the literal truth--it just wanted a plausible story that didn't contradict observation.

This mental approach to causality is often effective, which is why it's so deeply embedded in the brain. However, those same shortcuts get us into serious trouble in the modern world when we use our perceptual habits to explain events that we can't perceive or easily understand. Rather than accept the complexity of a situation--say, that snarl of causal interactions in the cholesterol pathway--we persist in pretending that we're staring at a blue ball and a red ball bouncing off each other. There's a fundamental mismatch between how the world works and how we think about the world.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Jeb Ex Machina? (David Catron, 12.20.11, American Spectator)

All of this leaves us with a Republican nomination race featuring three front runners, none of whom has the slightest prayer of beating Obama in the general election, and a group of second-tier candidates who will soon be gone. It would seem, then, that the GOP's only hope lies with some as yet undeclared candidate. And there are a few potential entrants who could theoretically enter the race this late and still have at least some hope of winning the nomination and beating Obama in the general election. This is, however, a very exclusive club. Its members do not include Gary Johnson, Sarah Palin or Donald Trump. Its only card-carrying members are Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. In fact, if we're going to be realistic about this thing, only the last would have any real chance of going the distance.

There are some observers with a great deal of hands-on political experience who have argued that the voters are just not ready "to return to the Bush leagues." This may well be the "smart" position, and it may even be correct. But it ignores a growing desire among the electorate to find any plausible replacement for Obama and, more importantly, the purely pragmatic question of money. Jeb Bush is probably the only Republican in the country with the name recognition and connections required to raise the kind of cash it will take to compete with an incumbent whose 2012 war chest will likely contain $1 billion, not including union money. Ryan, Jindal, and Rubio are good men. But, even if they could be talked into running, they wouldn't have a hope of raising such sums after entering the race this late.

There is no guarantee, of course, that Bush would suffer himself to be lowered onto the political stage in order to resolve the ridiculous plot dilemma the Republicans have written for themselves. He is well-endowed with good sense, and might run for the hills upon learning that a "draft Jeb" movement was afoot. On the other hand, his column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal has the tone of a man who might listen if the idea were pitched in the right way by the right people. And he may well be the GOP's only hope. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Havel's revolution of truth (Michael Gerson, 12/20/11, Washington Post)

Reading back over Havel's landmark 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless," is like wading through molasses scattered with diamonds. The intellectual jargon is thick -- and then comes a crystalline phrase, a perfectly polished insight. Communist regimes require people to "live within a lie," demanding dehumanizing rituals of loyalty. He describes his country as plastered with slogans but lacking in genuine belief. "Each person," he says, "somehow succumbs to a profane trivialization of his inherent humanity." They drift together "down the river of pseudolife."

Yet in a society ruled by lies, truth gains a "singular, explosive, incalculable political power." The desire to live authentically is the equivalent of a fifth column -- a revolution hidden in a whole society. Truth advances in a political speech, in a hunger strike, in a play, in a song. "It is a bacteriological weapon, so to speak," says Havel, "utilized when conditions are ripe by a single civilian to disarm an entire division." Havel was a historical prophet of the first order -- and the fulfillment of his own prophesy.

"Living within the truth," according to Havel, is an inherently moral enterprise. It requires sacrifice, which presupposes a "sense of responsibility" for others -- a belief in love, friendship and compassion. In the company of John Paul II and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Havel believed that political renewal starts in moral and personal renewal. In one letter from prison he wrote, "But who should begin? Who should break this vicious circle? The only possible place to begin is with myself. . . . Whether all is really lost or not depends entirely on whether or not I am lost."

Uncomfortably, Havel also applied this moral vision to the prosperous nations of the West. He criticized "a selfish cult of material success" and "the absence of faith in a higher order of things." Consumerism and relativism, he warned, could also strip people of humanity and responsibility. Even the wealthy and powerful can live within the lie. In his speech to Congress, Havel urged Americans to put "morality ahead of politics" and to foster "responsibility -- responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success."

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Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


"Tectonic Shifts" in Employment: Information technology is reducing the need for certain jobs faster than new ones are being created. (DAVID TALBOT, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012, Technology Review)

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have feared that new technologies would permanently erode employment. Over and over again, these dislocations of labor have been temporary: technologies that made some jobs obsolete eventually led to new kinds of work, raising productivity and prosperity with no overall negative effect on employment.

There's nothing to suggest that this dynamic no longer operates, but new research is showing that advances in workplace automation are being deployed at a faster pace than ever, making it more difficult for workers to adapt and wreaking havoc on the middle class: the clerks, accountants, and production-line workers whose tasks can increasingly be mastered by software and robots. "Do I think we will have permanently high unemployment as a consequence of technology? No," says Peter Diamond, the MIT economist who won a 2010 Nobel Prize for his work on market imperfections, including those that affect employment. "What's different now is that the nature of jobs going away has changed. Communication and computer abilities mean that the type of jobs affected have moved up the income distribution."

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee study information-­supercharged workplaces and the innovations and productivity advances they continually create. Now they have turned their sights to how these IT-driven improvements affect employment. In their new book, ­Brynjolfsson, director of the Center for Digital Business at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and McAfee, its principal research scientist, see a paradox in the first decade of the 2000s. Even before the economic downturn caused U.S. unemployment to rise from 4.4 percent in May 2007 to 10.1 percent in October 2009, a disturbing trend was visible. From 2000 to 2007, GDP and productivity rose faster than they had in any decade since the 1960s, but employment growth was comparatively tepid.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee posit that more work was being done by, or with help from, machines. For example, reduced the need for retail staffers; computerized kiosks in hotels and airports replaced clerks; voice-recognition and speech systems replaced customer support staff and operators; and businesses of all kinds took advantage of tools such as enterprise resource planning software. "A classically trained economist would say: 'This just means there's a big adjustment taking place until we find the new equilibrium--the new stuff for people to do,' " says McAfee.

We've certainly made such adjustments before. But whereas agricultural advances played out over a century and electrification and factory automation rolled out over decades, the power of some information technologies is essentially doubling every two years or so as a consequence of Moore's Law. It took some time for IT to fully replace the paper-driven workflows in cubicles, management suites, and retail stores. (In the 1980s and early 1990s productivity grew slowly, and then it took off after 1996; some economists explained that IT was finally being used effectively.) But now, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, the efficiencies and automation opportunities made possible by IT are advancing too fast for the labor market to keep up.

It's not a jobs crisis, just an interesting question about how wealth should be distributed.

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December 19, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 PM


The Plight of China's Favored Sons (ALEXANDRA HARNEY, 12/19/11, IHT)

According to Dudley Poston, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University, and his colleagues, 40 million Chinese men alive today will likely be left without a wife. That's more people than the population of California.

Uneducated men from the countryside like Li have the worst prospects because many marriages in rural China are local. Traditional family ties often mean that the first choice for a spouse is someone from the same town. But sex ratios at birth (S.R.B.) -- the ratio of boys born to girls -- are generally much higher in the countryside than in the cities. And so the market dynamics of marriage for men in rural areas are much worse than in the cities.

Demographers consider a natural S.R.B. to be between 104 and 107 boys born for every 100 girls. Nationally, China's sex ratio at birth is 120 boys per 100 girls; in rural areas, where couples often have more than one child, the S.R.B. for second children rises to 145 (and in nine provinces, it's a staggering 160, according to Poston). By comparison, the U.S. sex ratio at birth is 105 boys per 100 girls. The main reason for this gap is the use of ultrasound scanners to determine the gender of fetuses, followed by the abortion of many female ones.

The other reason Li will have a hard time finding a wife is the "no money, no honey" dynamic. Chinese brides and their parents prefer men with the highest possible income, in particular those who own property. A recent study by the China Youth Daily found that 35 percent of women of marrying age would not consider tying the knot with a man who didn't own property or who couldn't afford to buy some. Li earns about $3,400 a year and his girlfriend's parents expect him to buy an apartment that costs about $47,000.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:49 PM


Kim Jong Il's death could upset regional economy in Asia (Don Lee and David Pierson, 12/19/11, Los Angeles Times)

By itself, North Korea's closed and backward economy is too puny to matter. Based on official exchange rates, the country's gross domestic product was estimated by the CIA at $28 billion in 2009, roughly the size of Bakersfield's and only about 3% of South Korea's GDP.

But if North Korea's chronic food shortages and other entrenched economic problems worsen -- and there are signs that the country is straining under higher grain prices -- and the new leader has trouble consolidating power, it could touch off events creating more political and military instability. And that could upset the whole regional economy.

...before the Realists stop rooting for its stability?
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Posted by orrinj at 10:44 PM


In economists' paradise, lessons for US (Edward L. Glaeser, DECEMBER 19, 2011, Project Syndicate)

After General Augusto Pinochet took power in 1973, he eventually turned to a cadre of free-market economists, the "Chicago Boys'' who, like me, received their PhDs at the University of Chicago. Chile's subsequent rapid growth allowed economists to retain some influence. Chile's current president, Sebastián Piñera, taught economics after earning his PhD at Harvard, and his administration has consistently engaged American economists, including me, to provide advice. As a result, policy ideas that would be hard to pursue in the United States have become reality in Chile.

The Chilean government is a model of fiscal prudence. During boom years, it ran significant surpluses, which covered deficit spending during the recent global downturn. Yet Chile's fiscal health also owes much to its aggressively free-market approach to infrastructure, education, and retirement savings. Large infrastructure projects are provided by public-private partnerships and funded, at least in part, through user fees. Chile's children receive vouchers that allow them to choose private or public schools. Instead of relying on a program like our Social Security, workers are required to save for retirement by investing in privately managed pension funds.

In a similar spirit, public pensions in Chile are essentially a defined-contribution system, not a defined-benefit one. So Chile doesn't face a vast unfunded pension liability. The system's transparency means that, unlike our leaders, Chilean politicians can't promise golden retirement packages that will be paid for by future taxpayers. The American cities and states that face a multi-trillion dollar pension shortfall for their public employees should follow Chile towards a defined-contribution system. [...]

Since highways aren't built to eliminate social inequities, Chilean infrastructure policies seem more unambiguously successful. Public-private partnerships have transformed Chile, and, to date, they have invested about 5 percent of Chile's current GDP, primarily in roads. The great benefit of this system is that infrastructure is paid for largely by user fees, which limits giant boondoggles in which taxpayers foot the bill for ever-longer commutes.

The Ownership Society is, literally, fascist.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 PM


I have often asked myself why human beings have any rights at all. I always come to the conclusion that human rights, human freedoms, and human dignity have their deepest roots somewhere outside the perceptible world. These values are as powerful as they are because, under certain circumstances, people accept them without compulsion and are willing to die for them, and they make sense only in the perspective of the infinite and the eternal. . . . While the state is a human creation, human beings are the creation of God. 
-Vaclav Havel, The New York Review of Books

Czechs' Dissident Conscience, Turned President (DAN BILEFSKY and JANE PERLEZ, 12/19/11, NY Times)

It was as a dissident that Mr. Havel most clearly championed the ideals of a civil society. He helped found Charter 77, the longest enduring human rights movement in the former Soviet bloc, and keenly articulated the lasting humiliations that Communism imposed on the individual.

In his now iconic 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless," which circulated in underground editions in Czechoslovakia and was smuggled to other Warsaw Pact countries and to the West, Mr. Havel foresaw that the opposition could eventually prevail against the totalitarian state.

Mr. Havel, a child of bourgeois privilege whose family lost its wealth when the Communists came to power in 1948, first became active in the Writers Union in Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s, when his chief target was not Communism so much as it was the "reform Communism" that many were seeking.

During the Prague Spring of 1968, the brief period when reform Communists, led by Mr. Dubcek, believed that "socialism with a human face" was possible, Mr. Havel argued that Communism could never be tamed.

He wrote an article, "On the Theme of an Opposition," that advocated the end of single-party rule, a bold idea at the time. In May 1968, he was invited by the American theater producer Joseph Papp to see the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of his second play, "The Memorandum."

It was the last time Mr. Havel was allowed out of the country under Communist rule; the visit contributed to an abiding affection for New York.

After the Soviets sent tanks to suppress the Prague reforms in August 1968, Mr. Havel persisted in the fight for political freedom. In August 1969 he organized a petition of 10 points that repudiated the politics of "normalization" with the Soviet Union. He was accused of subversion, and in 1970 was vilified on state television and banned as a writer.

At the time, tens of thousands of Communists were expelled from the party, deemed too sympathetic to the Dubcek reforms that were being reversed by the Czechoslovak leader Gustav Husak. Mr. Havel kept writing, and in 1975, in an open letter to Mr. Husak -- the leader he eventually replaced -- he attacked the regime, arguing that Czechoslovakia operated under "political apartheid" that separated the rulers from the ruled.

The government, Mr. Havel wrote, had chosen "the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity."

In 1977, Mr. Havel was one of three leading organizers of Charter 77, a group of 242 signers who called for the human rights guaranteed under the 1975 Helsinki accords. Mr. Havel was quickly arrested, tried and convicted of subversion; he served three months in prison. He was arrested again in May 1979 on a charge of subversion and was sentenced to four and a half years.

The severity of this sentence brought protests from the Communist parties in France, Italy and Spain. Mr. Havel was eventually released in February 1983, suffering from pneumonia.

In prison, he was prohibited from writing anything but letters about "family matters" to his wife. These missives, he said, enabled him to make some sense of his incarceration. One of his themes was a warning to his persecutors that by their repression of human freedom, they were ultimately undercutting their own existence.

His refusal to break with Charter 77 led to other, briefer periods of detention as his celebrity status grew abroad. In January 1989, he was detained and tried after defying police orders to stay away from a demonstration.

His release in May that year represented the beginning of the end for Czechoslovakia's Communist government, which was badly out of step with reforms under way in neighboring Poland and Hungary and, under the leadership of Mr. Gorbachev, in the Soviet Union itself.

During the 1980s, Mr. Havel refused government pressure to emigrate. Not widely known at home outside dissident and intellectual circles in Prague, he became a focus for some Western diplomats and visitors, who would tramp up to the top-floor apartment of a six-story house that his father had built and philosophize with Mr. Havel while gazing across the Vltava River at the Prague Castle, long the seat of the country's rulers.

He earned virtually nothing from the menial job he was forced to take at a brewery, but had money from the royalties of publications overseas. He bought a Mercedes-Benz and decorated his book-crammed apartment with abstract paintings. He also owned the cottage at Hradecek where he died.

Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright and former Czech president, dies (lJ.Y. Smith, 12/19/2011, Washington Post)

Vaclav Havel, a Czech writer who was imprisoned by his country's communist rulers, only to become a symbol of freedom and his nation's first president in the post-communist era, died Dec. 18 at his weekend home in the northern Czech Republic. He was 75.

The death was announced by his assistant, Sabina Tancevova, the Associated Press reported. Mr. Havel underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1996 and had suffered from lung ailments in recent months.

Mr. Havel was a playwright by profession and a political activist by avocation. The two activities were complementary, and each served to gain him a leading place among the dissidents of Eastern Europe who helped bring down the communist empire. His words and deeds resonated far beyond the borders of the former Czechoslovakia, and he was widely recognized for his struggles in behalf of democracy and human dignity.

After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country's Parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was "a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine" whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a "spoiled moral environment."

"We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another," he said. "We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times."

In July 1992, he resigned the presidency when it became clear that the country would be dismembered, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, its eastern neighbor, going their separate ways. The split became formal on Jan. 1, 1993. About three weeks later, the new Czech Parliament called on the country's most famous citizen to return to the presidency. He remained in office for 10 more years.

Although his office was largely ceremonial, Mr. Havel had wide-ranging influence. He was credited with a major role in providing political stability as the country's economy made a relatively trouble-free transition from communist central planning to a free market. In foreign affairs, he was influential in gaining his country's admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

But it was as a dissident that Mr. Havel first gained the world's attention. For more than two decades, beginning in the 1950s, his books and plays were banned in Czechoslovakia. They nonetheless reached a large audience through the underground publishing network and broadcasts by the BBC and Voice of America.

We were fortunate enough to get to use an address by Mr. Havel in Redefining Sovereignty.  

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Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Top Ten Worst Dictators (ABC News)

A drone apiece should do it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Hamas moves away from violence in deal with Palestinian Authority: Islamic party that has controlled Gaza for five years is to shift emphasis away from armed struggle to non-violent resistance (Phoebe Greenwood, 12/18/11,

The announcement on Sunday does not qualify as a full repudiation of violence, but marks a step away from violent extremism by the Hamas leadership towards the more progressive Islamism espoused by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. [...]

Hamas believes the events of the Arab spring, in which uprisings have thrown off the old autocratic order and ushered in democratic, moderate Islamic governments in Tunisia and Egypt, have changed the landscape of the Middle East and is repositioning itself accordingly away from the Syria-Iran axis that has sustained it for decades, closer to the orbit of regional lslamist powers like Turkey and Qatar.

"European countries in particular see that the Muslim Brotherhood is a special kind of Islamic movement that is not radical. It could be the same with Hamas," said Nouno.

In a further concession to international legitimacy, the Hamas leadership confirmed on Sunday that it could entertain discussions regarding a peace agreement with Israel if the Quartet of peacebroking powers agree to modify its preconditions. Hamas will accept the foundation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders but stands firm in its refusal to acknowledge the state of Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Capitalism and the Right to Rise: In freedom lies the risk of failure. But in statism lies the certainty of stagnation. (JEB BUSH, 12/19/11, WSJ)

Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

In Washington, D.C., rules are going in the opposite direction. They are exploding in reach and complexity. They are created under a cloud of uncertainty, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy's resources should be spent.

Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom.

The nomination and the general are there for the taking.
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Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Wannabe Tea Party politician unleashes racist Facebook screed against President Obama  (NANCY DILLON, 12/19/11, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A rabid Tea Party wannabe politician in California called for the assassination of President Obama and his "monkey children" in a recent Facebook rant - and then defended his right to do so Monday.

Jules Manson, who failed miserably in his 2011 bid for a City Council seat in Carson, Calif., urged the sickening reprisal, saying Obama's support of a revised military authorization bill last week was an act of "treason" that "eroded" constitutional protections. [...]

An enthusiastic supporter of Tea Party pioneer Ron Paul, Manson described himself as a mechanical engineer bent on fiscal conservatism when he announced his city council candidacy earlier this year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Meryl Streep Film and EU Debates Bring Maggie Thatcher's Moment (Amanda Foreman, December 19, 2011, Daily  Beast)

Victory over Argentina took 72 days. A total of 649 Argentine servicemen and 255 British soldiers were killed. When the war ended, Thatcher delivered one of her most memorable utterances: "Just rejoice at that news ... rejoice!" For this she was pilloried by her critics, who thought her tone was too triumphalist, too unseemly. But to most Britons the war had made a heroine of her, and she was celebrated as a modern-day incarnation of Boadicea, an ancient British warrior-queen. In the general election of 1983 she romped home with a landslide majority of 144 seats.

There was nothing to celebrate in another war, the one at home with the Irish Republican Army. On Oct. 12, 1984, the IRA nearly succeeded in killing her. She was in her suite in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, polishing her speech for the party conference. The bombs that tore apart the hotel killed five, two of them her ministers. She and Denis narrowly escaped injury. She went straight out to the party conference and denounced "an attempt to cripple Her Majesty's democratically elected government."

But there were also tentative signs that at least some of her government's economic policies were working. Inflation had fallen to 5 percent, interest rates went down to 9 percent, and the tiniest shoot of economic growth appeared. Her second term was a juggernaut. Singlehandedly she forced the European Commissioners to return a billion pounds sterling, in effect just by fixing them with her steely blue eyes and banging her handbag on the table. The last of the Heathites were booted out of the cabinet. State monopolies were broken up and privatized. The sale of a million council properties (government-owned subsidized housing) created a new class of homeowners. The so-called Big Bang legislation opened up London's financial sector to competition. The top tax rate was lowered from 60 percent to 40 percent, while average incomes rose by 25 percent. Perhaps most important of all were new laws curtailing the power of the trade unions. She was ready for the showdown with the coal miners that Heath had lost. She piled up coal stocks and went toe to toe with the left-wing miners; their leader hadn't taken a poll of his members, but he had taken money from Libya's Gaddafi. A yearlong strike by the miners' union, dramatized in the film and play Billy Elliot, brought violence and misery to many mining communities. But in contrast to its successful strikes in 1973 and 1978, the lights stayed on and the rest of Britain continued working.

Early on, Thatcher often got her way through the skillful manipulation of sexual assumptions. "Lots of politicians I talked to said how attractive and flirtatious she was in the beginning," says Streep. "She recognized the power of femininity, and she really loved being the only woman in the room." At London dinner parties it was customary for the ladies to depart at coffee, leaving the men to smoke and talk politics and sports. But when ladies retreated, Maggie made a point of staying, and, to the intense irritation of other wives, not asking for them to be included.

She never showed a scrap of deference to the men. If you agreed with her on one thing, she expected you to agree on everything. Her energy minister, Lord Howell, and others complained that instead of discussions, there were often confrontations. "She could be very shrill, partly as a tactic," concedes her foreign adviser Lord Powell. "She used being a woman pretty skillfully in many sorts of situations, for instance in getting her way with her political and cabinet colleagues. She knew that public-school-educated British men weren't brought up to argue with women." Thatcher's bossy-boots routine could have a disconcerting effect on some of the younger M.P.s. "I once made a sort of modest intervention," says Francis Maude, paymaster general in the current Conservative government. "Her eyes blazed, and she leaned across the table at me as if she was about to crawl over the table and wallop me with her handbag." Britain's current prime minister had a similar encounter. "I'll never forget my first meeting with Lady Thatcher," recalls David Cameron. "It was at the Conservative Research Department Christmas party. I was a young staffer on the trade and industry desk. Word went round the prime minister had arrived to talk to us all. I was standing there nervously, clutching a glass of warm wine, when the P.M. stopped right in front of me, looked me in the eyes, and asked: 'Have you seen the trade figures out today? What did you think of them?' It felt like the music had suddenly stopped. Unfortunately, I had not seen the figures. Needless to say, I never made the same mistake again."

After Thatcher's electoral victory in 1987--she was the first prime minister in 160 years to win three successive elections--she turned the bulk of her attention to the international stage, where her impact was considerable. She gave the Poles hope, and the Afghans Stinger missiles. Having decided that Mikhail Gorbachev was "a man I can do business with," she formed an extraordinary troika with him and Reagan that led to the collapse of communism in Europe, though she had grave misgivings about the reunification of Germany.

"She bestrode the world like a colossus," says Britain's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne. Thatcher's handbag, at first a symbol of weakness, had become a thing of unparalleled power. "The men I talked to about Thatcher," says Streep, "claimed when she reached for the bag, you just never knew what was going to come out. Your heart went into your feet." At one cabinet meeting the ministers arrived to find her absent but the iconic article sitting on the table. "Why don't we start," suggested the environment secretary. "The handbag is here." The handbag became her leitmotif, marking her out as a prime minister who was part Lady Bracknell and part Winston Churchill. Politicians who fell foul of her were often described in the press as having been "handbagged"--a cross, in effect, between a mugging and an evisceration. In 1988 U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz presented her with the Grand Order of the Handbag--an Asprey bag stuffed with her one-liners.

In the end, Maggie was, herself, mugged by the men who had once cowered before her. In 1989, the Conservative Party was splitting over whether to join the euro. Thatcher was adamantly opposed, but two of her longest-serving allies, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson, broke with her. "Many Tory M.P.s had come to the view that in order for the party to win the next election, and, more importantly, for them to hold onto their seats, they just had to get rid of her," says Osborne. A secret assessment of the situation by party chiefs concluded that Thatcher herself was the problem.

In mid-November 1990, Howe announced his resignation to a hushed assembly of M.P.s, daring them to act. Thatcher's former defense secretary Michael Heseltine answered by initiating a leadership challenge. Thatcher, who believed she was invulnerable, refused to solicit support. Nor would she change her line on Europe. In her last interview as prime minister she warned against the danger of relinquishing fiscal sovereignty: "Are we going to ... have one single currency which we can have no control over, which we cannot determine our own interest rate or anything?" Fatally, Thatcher insisted on scheduling the ballot when she would be in Paris at a summit to celebrate the end of the Cold War. "I called her office," recalls Kissinger. "I said she should not go to Paris because I thought that forces were building up against her."

Just over a month later, she was deposed as party leader. Her final speech before the House of Commons is the stuff of legend. "It was one of the bravest things I've ever seen," says Thatcher's close friend Romilly McAlpine. "She was going into a baying mob." Thatcher gave the greatest performance of her career. By the end of her speech M.P.s were cheering and waving their papers; a few were even crying. Outside, crowds sang "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead."

After she left office, Thatcher's chief occupation became giving speeches, lots and lots of speeches, for lots and lots of money. Streep happened to stumble on one such event while visiting her daughter at Northwestern University: "She delivered the lecture, which was smooth and very controlled. And then she started to take questions. She continued for over an hour and a half, gaining in animation and zeal as she went on. I thought, oh my God, she's absolutely formidable."

Nothing, though, could heal the wounds inflicted on Thatcher by her own party. In a documentary interview made to accompany her memoirs, she stares straight at the camera and asserts, "It was treachery with a smile on its face." Some would have called it necessity: "But for years afterwards there was the question," says Osborne: "'How did you vote as an M.P. in the vote of confidence on her?'" The question as to who wielded the dagger played into a shared feeling of guilt among M.P.s that they had participated in a Shakespearean tragedy. But which one?

For Ronald Miller, Thatcher's speechwriter, the answer was obvious as he watched her receive an ecstatic reception from the Tory faithful at the first party conference after her ousting. He joined her for lunch later that day. "By the time we reached the coffee stage the Iron Lady had returned, cannonballs raking the political spectrum from end to end. I was reminded of Coriolanus telling the Romans who had banished him, 'I banish you.'"
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Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


China Debts on Local Projects Dwarf Official Data (Bloomberg News, Dec 18, 2011)

Bloomberg News tallied the debt disclosed by all 231 local government financing companies that sold bonds, notes or commercial paper through Dec. 10 this year. The total amounted to 3.96 trillion yuan ($622 billion), mostly in bank loans, more than the current size of the European bailout fund.

There are 6,576 of such entities across China, according to a June count by the National Audit Office, which put their total debt at 4.97 trillion yuan. That means the 231 borrowers studied by Bloomberg have alone amassed more than three-quarters of the overall debt.

The fact so few of the companies have accumulated that much debt suggests a bigger problem, says Fraser Howie, the Singapore-based managing director of CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets who has written two books on China's financial system.

"You should be more worried than you think," he said of Bloomberg's findings. "Certainly more worried than the banks will tell you.

"You know how this story ends -- badly," he said.

December 18, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


The Great Tea Race of 1866 (Mike Dash, 12/15/11, Smithsonian)

Captain John Keay, master of the crack new British clipper ship Ariel, had good reason to feel pleased with himself. He had secured the first cargo of tea to come to market at the great Chinese port of Foochow (modern Fuzhou) in 1866--560 tons of first and second pickings, freighted at the high price of £7 a ton: the very finest leaves available. The cargo had been floated out to him in lighters, packed in more than 12,000 hand-made tea chests, and stowed below decks in the record time of just four days. Now Ariel was weighing anchor at 5 p.m. on the evening of May 28-the first tea clipper to sail for London that season.

She was a brand new ship: "A perfect beauty," Keay recalled, "to every nautical man who saw her; in symmetrical grace and proportion of hull, spars, sails, rigging and finish she satisfied the eye and put all in love with her without exception. Very light airs gave her headway, and I could trust her like a thing alive in all evolutions." Ariel was indeed the fleetest vessel of her time; flying the astounding total of more than 26,000 square feet of canvas, she could reach speeds of 16 knots, far faster than contemporary steamers.

But the advantage that Keay held over the other clippers crowded in the port was minimal, and Ariel was unlucky with her tugs. The paddle steamer Island Queen, hired to take the clipper in tow, lacked the power to carry her across the bar of the Min River against a falling tide. Stranded for the night, Keay and his crack crew were forced to lie at anchor and watch as their rivals completed their own hurried loading and started in pursuit. That evening the rival Fiery Cross came down the river towed by a more powerful tug, edged her way into clear water, and set a course east across the China Sea. Keay was still negotiating the bar next morning when two other clippers, Serica and Taeping, appeared beside him. The Tea Race of 1866--the most exciting in the history of the China trade--was on.
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December 17, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Air-Sea Battle: Our defense intellectuals, seeking a new Big Idea, need to seek farther. (Jim Lacey, 12/14/11, National Review)

For the Air Force and Navy, Gates's request was massive. As far as they were concerned, the Army and Marine Corps had been allowed to play the "We're fighting two wars" card for too long. It was just too hard to claim a bigger portion of the budget when you had to justify taking it from the guys actually doing most of the fighting. To make sure they were not the big losers in any future budget cuts, the Air Force and Navy needed a big idea -- a concept or strategy that would place them at the center of any future military effort. Gates's request was the answer to their dreams. Almost immediately the two services (along with the Marines) established the Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO), to start coming up with new war-fighting concepts that would catch the imagination of Congress for the next ten or twenty budget cycles. They did not even invite the Army to send a representative to the meeting.

In truth, the Air-Sea Battle concept addresses a very real problem: How does the U.S. military operate in a world where many potential foes can afford missiles and other weapons that could deny it entry to or use of an area. Problems arose, however, when this search for a technical fix to a tactical problem began to morph into a strategy, one that was widely perceived as being aimed at containing or if necessary militarily defeating China. As China is the one country that can afford a substantial amount of "area-denial" weapons, it was only natural that the planners should first consider how they would match the strongest potential force they may one day have to face. Unfortunately, a lot of the early commentary on Air-Sea Battle made it look like a modern redo of the pre-World War II Plan Orange, which envisioned the Pacific Fleet rushing headlong across the ocean to destroy the Japanese Imperial Navy. Only this time around, Japan was replaced by China as the enemy of choice.

Of course, given today's political concerns and current diplomatic niceties, having the Pentagon work on plans for how to defeat China was beyond the pale. So, for the past several months, the Department of Defense has been busily walking back the idea that Air-Sea Battle is a "strategy" aimed at militarily defeating China. Rather, it is once again firmly in the "concepts" corral, where it is available to assist U.S. military commanders in any region where they might encounter an enemy with substantial "anti-access" or "area-denial" capabilities. To make sure it stays corralled, the Joint Staff last week issued the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC), which subsumes Air-Sea Battle into a larger war-fighting context applicable anywhere in the world.

As far as "joint operational concepts" go, this one is as good as any. It even has something to cheer up all those defense intellectuals who were concerned that our political phobia about saying anything that might annoy China might stop them from publishing a tome on Air-Sea Battle. You see, according to the JOAC, the only way to defeat the anti-access threat is through "cross-domain synergy." What is that? In short, it appears to mean combining every available resource so as to create a lot more bang for the buck (1 + 1 + 1 = 24). Of course no one, least of all the military, will know what the heck it truly means until the defense intellectuals have finished explaining it to us, an endeavor sure to wipe out at least one more forest.

So what is wrong with the new concept? Plenty. Although this is a "joint" concept and therefore supposed to include all the services, the Army still seems to be odd man out.

...and that the American people would broadly support nuking the PRC, all such planning is really just based around procurement budgets.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Guantánamo comes home (Yo Zushi - 17 December 2011, New Statesman)

I cite Reagan because he, more than any other US president, seemed to lay the groundwork for the nightmare of the George W Bush years. Reagan gave the international community - if such a community can be said to exist - a taste of what was to come in 1983, when he sent troops to the Caribbean island of Grenada following a coup. He called Grenada a "Soviet-Cuban beachhead" and justified the invasion of the tiny country (with a population of about 100,000) by invoking the major paranoia of those years: the red threat. When the United Nations condemned Reagan's "intervention" as "a flagrant violation of international law", he was unmoved. The president responded to the criticism with a tasteless quip: "It didn't upset my breakfast at all." The UN tried to pass a motion deploring the invasion but the US simply vetoed it. In 2002, Bush would cement this arrogant, dismissive attitude to international consensus and law with his national security strategy.

By moving to scrap Guantánamo Bay so soon after coming to power, Obama reassured his supporters, both within and outside America, that a dark chapter of US history was coming to an end. It was a powerful symbolic gesture that suggested that the rule of international law would be heeded once more by the White House. As the second anniversary of the Cuban camp's "final closure" date nears, however, some 170 prisoners remain imprisoned there. [...]

On Thursday, the Senate passed the National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA), which, in effect, formalises the right of the military to arrest and indefinitely detain alleged terrorist operatives without trial, including US citizens. Obama was against the bill and the White House was expected to veto it; but, after what the lawyer Wendy Kaminer in the Atlantic called "cosmetic efforts to obscure the bill's threat to American[s]", the president signed it off.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Santa gets help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts at retail stores (Associated Press, December 16, 2011)

The young father stood in line at the Kmart layaway counter, wearing dirty clothes and worn-out boots. With him were three small children.

He asked to pay something on his bill because he knew he wouldn't be able to afford it all before Christmas. Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

"She told him, 'No, I'm paying for it,'" recalled Edna Deppe, assistant manager at the store in Indianapolis. "He just stood there and looked at her and then looked at me and asked if it was a joke. I told him it wasn't, and that she was going to pay for him. And he just busted out in tears."

At Kmart stores across the country, Santa is getting some help: Anonymous donors are paying off strangers' layaway accounts, buying the Christmas gifts other families couldn't afford, especially toys and children's clothes set aside by impoverished parents.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


Hands Off Our Land: 'A wound in the loveliest of places': The meadows in Berkshire that inspired Richard Adams's book 'Watership Down' are now under threat from property developers. (Richard Adams, 17 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

In the opening chapter of my novel Watership Down, the rabbits encounter a freshly erected hoarding, on the edge of Sandleford Warren. Still reeking of creosote, it reads: "This ideally situated estate, comprising six acres of excellent building land, is to be developed with high class modern residences by Sutch and Martin, Limited, of Newbury, Berkshire."

Now, in a truly nasty coincidence, that self same stretch of land, at Sandleford Park, just outside Newbury, has, in real life, been earmarked for residential development. Not by the fictional Sutch and Martin, but by West Berkshire Council.

This idea is altogether wrong and misconceived, and, in my view, must be strongly resisted. The whole of Sandleford comprises part of the beautiful area of open country that is adjacent to the south side of Newbury. To use planning jargon, it constitutes a "green lung" for the borough of Newbury, and it is vital, in the public interest, that it should remain in its present unspoilt state, protected by Town and Country planning law.

Let me tell you a little about this area. In fact, come with me now on a small journey.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Why Obama's New Populism May Sink His Campaign (William Galston, December 17, 2011, New Republic)

Let me start with a Gallup survey released on December 15, which showed that the number of Americans who see American society as divided into haves and have-nots has decreased significantly since the 2008 election. Back then, 49 percent saw the country as divided along those lines, and 49 percent didn't. As of this week, only 41 percent see the country as divided between haves and have-nots, while 58 percent do not. (The share of Americans who consider themselves to be "haves" hasn't budged: 59 percent in 2008, 58 percent today.)

Significantly, most of the reduction in those seeing the country as economically divided has occurred in the middle of the political spectrum. In 2008, 48 percent of independents saw an economic divide; today it's 37 percent. In 2008, 51 percent of moderates saw a divide, versus only 38 percent now. Liberals are the only group that has become more likely to see a divided society--63 percent in 2008, 66 percent today. While invoking sharpening divisions will thrill them, it may have the opposite effect on the moderates and independents without whose support national Democratic candidates will fail.

Now consider another Gallup survey, this one released on the 16th. Respondents were asked to categorize three economic objectives as extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not important. Here's what they said:

                                                Extremely/very important          Somewhat/not important

Grow and expand
the economy                                         82                                            18

Increase equality of
opportunity for people to
get ahead                                               70                                            30

Reduce the income and
wealth gap between the
rich and the poor                                  46                                            54

Regardless of partisanship, substantial majorities of Americans saw expanding the economy and increasing equality of opportunity as extremely or very important. Not so for reducing income and wealth gaps--21 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents. Only Democrats gave this goal a high priority, by a margin of 72 to 27.

...and we currently perceive everyone to be struggling, how are you going to drum up anger about social inequality?  Indeed, the great irony of the Occupations is that because the movement is mainly populated by the wealthy it reinforces the notion that the wealthy are struggling too and defuses pressure for reductions in inequality.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Ron Paul Takes Swipes at GOP Rivals, Says Michele Bachmann 'Hates Muslims' (Jason M. Volack, 12/17/11, ABC News)

Appearing on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," the presidential hopeful took a swipe at his GOP rivals telling the crowd that Michele Bachmann "hates Muslims."

When asked by host Jay Leno what he thought of his rivals, Paul shook his head, slowed his voice and said, "she doesn't like Muslims, she hates them, she wants to go get 'em" -- in reference to the comments Bachmann has made on the campaign trail over her willingness to attack Iran over its suspected nuclear program.

The comment was especially surprising for Paul, who up until now has shied away from personal attacks.

Whereas Mr. Paul, as one would expect of a Social Darwinist, hates blacks. They're both embarrassments to the Party.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Israel Deports Some Converted Immigrants: State Rejects Haredi Rabbis' Conversions to Judaism (Nathan Jeffay,  December 17, 2011, Forward)

Prague-born Ragachova, 37, moved to Israel a decade ago, and in 2004 converted to Judaism in the Bnei Brak rabbinic court of Nissim Karelitz, one of the world's best-respected and most stringent Haredi rabbis. Karelitz was so moved by the genuineness of her commitment to Judaism that he knelt before her by way of congratulation.

Prior to this ultra-Orthodox conversion, Ragachova had applied to become Jewish in the modern-Orthodox state-run conversion courts. But they did not accept her application. So she took the private Haredi track.

She now has a conversion certificate that is accepted by virtually every rabbi in the world, in contrast to the state conversion she originally applied for, which is viewed with skepticism by large sections of the Orthodox community. But because she took her conversion into her own hands, Israel's state rabbinate and Interior Ministry insist that she is not Jewish.

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Physics Envy: Creating financial models involving human behavior is like forcing 'the ugly stepsister's foot into Cinderella's pretty glass slipper.' (BURTON G. MALKIEL, 12/16/11, WSJ)

Trained as a physicist, Emanuel Derman once served as the head of quantitative analysis at Goldman Sachs and is currently a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. With "Models Behaving Badly" he offers a readable, even eloquent combination of personal history, philosophical musing and honest confession concerning the dangers of relying on numerical models not only on Wall Street but also in life.

Mr. Derman's particular thesis can be stated simply: Although financial models employ the mathematics and style of physics, they are fundamentally different from the models that science produces. Physical models can provide an accurate description of reality. Financial models, despite their mathematical sophistication, can at best provide a vast oversimplification of reality. In the universe of finance, the behavior of individuals determines value--and, as he says, "people change their minds."

In short, beware of physics envy. When we make models involving human beings, Mr. Derman notes, "we are trying to force the ugly stepsister's foot into Cinderella's pretty glass slipper. It doesn't fit without cutting off some of the essential parts." As the collapse of the subprime collateralized debt market in 2008 made clear, it is a terrible mistake to put too much faith in models purporting to value financial instruments. "In crises," Mr. Derman writes, "the behavior of people changes and normal models fail. While quantum electrodynamics is a genuine theory of all reality, financial models are only mediocre metaphors for a part of it."

Actually, quantum theory is just a metaphor that depends on human behavior too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


White House Signals Pipeline Provision Not a Deal-Breaker in Payroll Tax Cut Debate (Fox News, December 16, 2011)

Democratic senators met privately to review the proposal. But even before that session ended, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., issued a statement saying he had "brokered a final deal by bringing lawmakers from both parties together to support jobs."

The White House appeared Friday to back off earlier threats to reject a payroll tax cut extension over a provision relating to a controversial oil pipeline, as Republicans insisted the provision be included in any final product.

States Told They Can Decide on Coverage by Health Plans (LOUISE RADNOFSKY, 12/16/11, wsj

The move--a departure from the way the administration had been expected to implement the provision--disappointed some disease-advocacy groups that had hoped federal regulators would spell out exactly what services insurance policies for millions of Americans will have to cover to be sold in state-run insurance exchanges that open in 2014.

Instead, the administration said states could use what is now offered in their local markets as the basis to determine what benefits must be included in new plans sold to individuals and small groups.

The move represents an attempt by the administration to defuse Republican criticism that the law gives the federal government too much control over Americans' medical care. But some small-business employers immediately raised concerns that the change would make plans more expensive for them.

He's perfectly content to govern as a Republican, or anywhere else he's led.
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December 16, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Joe Simon, a Creator of Captain America, Is Dead at 98 (BRUCE WEBER, 12/16/11, NY Times)

[M]r. Simon's most enduring character, which he created with Mr. Kirby, is that defender of (among other things) the national honor, Captain America. The alter ego of a decent but wimpy young fellow named Steve Rogers who has volunteered to take an experimental serum that turns him into a perfect specimen of human athleticism, Captain America was a supersoldier. Muscular, masked, clad in red, white and blue and carrying a shield he could fling as a weapon -- though not possessed of any explicit superpowers -- he appeared for the first time in December 1940 (the issue was dated March 1941), a year before the United States entered World War II. On the cover he was pictured delivering a right cross to Adolf Hitler. It was Hitler who provided the impetus for the character.

"The comics that were doing really well at the time were ones with clever villains in them, so I started by looking around for the perfect villain," Mr. Simon wrote in his autobiography, "Joe Simon: My Life in Comics." "I thought to myself, Let's get a real live villain. Adolf Hitler would be the perfect foil for our next new character, what with his hair and that stupid-looking mustache and his goose-stepping. He was like a cartoon anyway."

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Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Christopher Hitchens, writer and Vanity Fair contributor, dies at 62 (Dylan Stableford, 12/16/11, Yahoo:  The Cutline)

His own memoir, "Hitch-22," was published shortly before his diagnosis, forcing him to cancel a book tour.

"I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus," Hitchens wrote then. "This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice."

Yet he continued to write about his fight with cancer--among other weighty topics--in the months that followed.

"Cancer victimhood contains a permanent temptation to be self-centered and even solipsistic," he wrote in Vanity Fair last year.

Amusing as his shtick could be, Mr. Hitchens was all about his own self, though he did show signs, before his illness, of getting beyond that.   It was, perhaps, too much to hope that he'd ever have the decency to apologize for his unstinting opposition to anti-communism and his defense of the Soviet Union and its satellite movements.  But in later life he'd written sufficiently flattering pieces about major conservative figures--Edmund Burke, George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh and the like--that it seemed almost a back door way of making amends for the error of his ways.* 

Sadly, his illness prevented him from completing the progression he'd embarked on.  Just as he could not face up to the reality of the USSR he'd defended, it would have been too much to ask that he face the prospect of his own death honestly after 60 years spent raging at God.  Hopefully in death he can find the peace that his self-destructive behavior suggests eluded him in life.

*His enthusiasm for the War on Terror after 9-11, which made fans of many on the neocon Right, ought to be seen as more a matter of distaste at what rampant Islamicism would mean for him personally than as a sudden conversion to the belief that the Anglo-American world has a moral obligation to help liberate oppressed peoples. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


The search for the God particle goes beyond mere physics (Michael Gerson, 12/15/11, Washington Post)

In 1928, theoretical physicist Paul Dirac combined the mathematical formulas for relativity and quantum mechanics into a single equation and predicted the existence of antimatter. Antimatter was duly discovered in 1932. But why should a mathematical equation -- the product of brain chemistry -- describe physical reality? It is not self-evident that there should be any correspondence between mathematical formulas and the laws of the universe. Modern physics does not consist of measured phenomena summarized in elegant equations; it consists of elegant equations that predict measured phenomena. This has been called "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics." However unreasonable, it led to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider along the border of France and Switzerland, the largest machine ever built by human beings.

Dr. Ard Louis, a young physicist teaching at the University of Oxford, recalls his first encounter with Dirac's equation. "How can mathematics demand something so fantastical from nature? I was sure it couldn't be true and spent many hours trying to find a way out. When I finally gave up and saw that there was no way around Dirac's result, it gave me goose bumps. I remember thinking that even if I never used my years of physics training again, it would have been worth it just to see something so spectacularly beautiful."

Louis describes a cumulative case for wonder. Not only does the universe unexpectedly correspond to mathematical theories, it is self-organizing -- from biology to astrophysics -- in unlikely ways. The physical constants of the universe seem finely tuned for the emergence of complexity and life. Slightly modify the strength of gravity, or the chemistry of carbon, or the ratio of the mass of protons and electrons, and biological systems become impossible. The universe-ending Big Crunch comes too soon, or carbon isn't produced, or suns explode.

The wild improbability of a universe that allows us to be aware of it seems to demand some explanation.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Where Obama Has Slipped (Ronald Brownstein, December 15, 2011, National Journal)

There's an ominous trend for President Obama in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll: not only is his overall approval rating lagging, but he's lost as much (or even more) ground among groups that favored him in 2008 as among those who resisted him last time.

The chart at left compares Obama's vote among key groups in 2008, according to exit polls, and his job approval rating among them in the latest Heartland Monitor released Thursday morning. (The survey, conducted by FTI Strategic Communications, polled 1200 adults by landline telephone and cell phone from November 30 to December 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.)

Overall, Obama has slipped from 52.8 percent of the vote in 2008 to 44 percent approval in the new survey with 49 percent disapproving. As the chart shows, Obama has declined not only in the groups that were always dubious of him, but also with several that enthusiastically joined his winning 2008 majority.


Basically, the only thing he has going for him is that he's perceived as the defender of the Social Security/Medicare status quo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The Meaning of Hanukkah: A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition. (JON D. LEVENSON, 12/15/11, WSJ)

The emphasis placed on it now is mostly due to timing: Hanukkah offers Jews an opportunity for celebration and commercialization comparable to what their Christian neighbors experience at Christmas, and it gives Christians the opportunity to include Jews in their holiday greetings and parties. What's more, the observances associated with Hanukkah are few, relatively undemanding, and even appealing to children.

The story of Hanukkah also fits the political culture of the United States. Its underlying narrative recalls that of the Pilgrims: A persecuted religious minority, at great cost, breaks free of their oppressors. [...]

"Hanukkah" means "dedication." Originally, the term referred to the rededication of the purified Temple after the Maccabees' stunning military victory. But as the story of the martyrs shows, the victory was also associated with the heroic dedication of the Jewish traditionalists of the time to their God and his Torah. If Hanukkah celebrates freedom, it is a freedom to be bound to something higher than freedom itself.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Romney applauds Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan plan for Medicare (Tolleah Price , 12/15/11, CBS News)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday applauded a new bipartisan plan to overhaul Medicare, hours after the White House slammed it as "radical."
During a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, the former Massachusetts governor called the proposal, which resembles a proposal Romney had earlier made, the result of politicians in both parties caring about "America in a critical time."

...because it gives you some of the control over the subsequent legislative process that the UR so conspicuously lacked when his term began.

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December 15, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Coffee and Porter Braised Brisket (Miami Herald, 12/15/11)

4-pound brisket, flat half, trimmed of fat

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered

6 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)

12-ounce bottle chili sauce

3 (12-ounce) bottles porter beer

2 cups strong black coffee

Season the brisket with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven over high, heat the oil. Add the brisket and sear until browned all over, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.

Add the onions and celery to the pot, then set the brisket over them. Add the chili sauce, beer and coffee. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook 2 hours.

Uncover and cook until the brisket is fork tender, another 1 to 2 hours. If the liquid reduces too much, replace the cover.

When ready, transfer the brisket to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Skim surface fat from the braising liquid. Using an immersion blender, puree the vegetables and braising liquid in the Dutch oven. Or ladle vegetables and liquid, in batches if necessary, to a blender and puree. Return sauce to pot.

Return brisket to pot and heat on the stovetop until the meat is heated through, about 10 minutes. Cut brisket into thin slices across the grain and serve topped with the sauce.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Suspected Jewish extremists torch second Palestinian mosque, deface it with Hebrew graffiti (Associated Press, December 15, 2011)

Vandals set fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Thursday and defaced it with Hebrew graffiti a day after a similar arson attack on a Jerusalem mosque. Suspicion fell on Jewish extremists widely assumed to be behind stepped-up violence against Palestinians and the Israeli military.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Jacques Chirac found guilty of corruption (Associated Press,  15 December 2011)

[T]he 79-year-old former leader did not take part in the trial after doctors determined that he suffers from severe memory lapses.

In the historic verdict, the court said it had found Chirac guilty in two related cases involving fake jobs created at the RPR party, which he led during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris's mayor.

He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust and illegal conflict of interest. Chirac has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


A Bipartisan Way Forward on Medicare: Allowing private plans to compete with traditional Medicare will help lower costs and spur innovation. (RON WYDEN AND PAUL RYAN, 12/15/11, WSJ)

Under our plan, Americans currently over the age of 55 would see no changes to the Medicare system. For future retirees, starting in 2022, our plan would introduce a "premium support" system that would empower Medicare beneficiaries to choose either a traditional Medicare plan or a Medicare-approved private plan. Unlike Medicare Advantage, these private plans would compete head-to-head with traditional, fee-for-service Medicare on a federally regulated Medicare exchange.

This reformed Medicare program would include the toughest consumer protections in American government.

Low-income seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid would continue to have Medicaid pay for their out-of-pocket expenses. Other lower-income seniors would receive fully funded savings accounts to help offset any increased out-of-pocket costs, while wealthier seniors would receive less help.

All health plans that participate in the Medicare exchange would be required to offer benefits that are at least as comprehensive as those covered by traditional Medicare, and participating plans would be forbidden to charge discriminatory premiums and would be required to cover everyone regardless of age, gender or health status.

The direct federal contribution to health plans that cover the sickest seniors would be higher than it would be for plans that cover healthier seniors, thus ensuring that more help goes to seniors with greater health-care needs.

Our plan wouldn't merely ensure that American retirees have more health-care options than they have today. By allowing private plans to compete directly with traditional Medicare, our plan would also spur a wave of innovation to lower health-care costs and provide higher-quality health care.

The reason is simple: In order to offer better benefits and lower costs than traditional Medicare, private plans will have to develop better delivery models and design better ways to care for patients with chronic illnesses. Imagine health plans tailored to help patients manage diabetes, prevent heart disease, or combat high blood pressure.

A Medicare reform plan that just might work (Howard Gleckman, December 15, 2011, CS Monitor)

Ryan-Wyden would work like this:

    Those 65 and older would receive a subsidy to purchase insurance. They could either buy traditional Medicare or a private policy that met government benefit and marketing standards.
    Private insurers would have to offer plans at least as good as fee-for-service Medicare and be barred from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
    The subsidy would be tied to the cost of the second-lowest cost private plan or traditional Medicare. This would be relatively generous.
    Seniors would buy coverage through an insurance market that would very likely mimic the exchanges in the 2010 health law.
    For the first time, the proposal would cap Medicare cost growth. Thus, instead of continuing Medicare as an open-ended entitlement whose costs automatically rise with health expenditures, the program would impose a global budget on the program. In theory, at least, the combination of market competition and this overall budget would slow the growth of Medicare costs. This could be the most contentious element of the entire plan.
    The plan would provide additional subsidies for low-income seniors but increase premiums for those with high-incomes. It would also offer a new catastrophic benefit.
    It would apply only to those who turn 65 in 2022 or later.

Another Step Toward Medicare Reform (Yuval Levin, December 14, 2011, National Review)

In a sense, competitive bidding is an even more market-based reform than the original Ryan proposal; it's a way for those of us who believe that markets can help control health-care costs to show confidence in our expectations of competition. If market forces do drive costs down, as conservative health-care experts expect, the reform would save an enormous amount of money, leaving both our budget and our health-care system in vastly better shape. If market forces do not drive costs down sufficiently, then we would have to find another way to address our entitlement costs. We would be back where we started, which is where most Democrats want to end up anyway. (The index alone wouldn't do all that much in that case; as we've learned over and over, Congress won't let costs for seniors actually go up much, the only way to cut costs for the system as a whole is to use market forces to drive efficiency without undermining quality and access.) Whether the reform succeeds or fails, seniors would have a guaranteed benefit and essentially no added financial risk--which of course also reduces the political risk for elected officials willing to back such an idea.
As the Times puts it, "the proposal is sure to come under fire from beneficiaries and Democrats." I don't know about beneficiaries, but it will surely come under fierce fire from many Democrats, as it badly disrupts their plans for 2012. Wyden's support for this proposal is the largest crack yet in the Democratic wall of demagoguery on Medicare, and will certainly complicate the Democrats' efforts to paint premium-support--which has basically become the consensus conservative position on Medicare reform since the Ryan budget was introduced this spring--as a crazy right-wing assault on the elderly. In fact, premium-support is more or less the only plausible way to save Medicare from fiscal collapse, to save the federal government from a debt crisis, and to free the health sector from the crushing burden of the Medicare fee-for-service system, allowing for far greater efficiency and innovation and restraining the growth of costs.
As the Times reported a few weeks ago, some congressional Democrats have quietly come to the conclusion that such a reform could work and should be tried, even as their leaders have continued to rail against it. But Wyden is the first Democratic member of Congress to back it publicly, and he has done so by joining hands with the chief architect of the Republican embrace of premium-support, Paul Ryan. Amazing.

Everyone knows what the eventual reforms of the Welfare State look like, it's just a matter of facing your own party after compromising with the other.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The Miracle Noodle: My experiment with shirataki, the zero-calorie pasta from Japan. (Annie Lowrey, y, Dec. 14, 2011,Slate)

I thought I might just have to acclimate myself: Don't think of them as pasta, I said, standing by the sink, think of them as an unusual yam noodle from Japan. But the curious taint never went away. The pasta tasted just like cacio e pepe, but retained its strange foreign character. I could not down them unthinkingly, like I could with even the worst bowl of normal spaghetti.

Before nausea could creep into the picture, I decided to prepare the remainder of the noodles in less-familiar preparations than that Roman classic. Calorie-avoiding cooks on the Internet recommended Asian-flavored preparations--supplanting the shirataki for other Japanese yam noodles, or using them like the Vietnamese use vermicelli. So I made two quick sauces. First up, a simple concoction of mirin and soy with fresh ginger and garlic. I let the noodles marinate in the sauce for a few minutes, trying to soften them and to get them to take on the taste of the other ingredients. Alas, the miracle noodles did not take up much liquid. They never changed color or texture, remaining slimy and firm. I ate only a bite of that one.

Then came a heavier preparation--soy, sesame oil, garlic, peanuts, and lots of chili. I put some of the noodles in the fridge before tossing them with the oily, sticky sauce, hoping they might be less strange to chew when cool. The noodles stiffened more than regular pasta would have, though the strands did not stick together. The impostors seemed more like impostors, not less. Thrown in a hot pan like stir-fry, though, the dish kind of worked. Shirataki do not absorb flavors around them, but they also do not break up or clump. Toss with lots of vegetables and perhaps a protein, and you might just have yourself dinner.

That lesson is the important part of eating shirataki, though not one they tell you on the package: It is not pasta, and any attempt to eat it like pasta will just leave you feeling queasy. So dieters dying for something, anything noodle-like, have at it with gleeful abandon! Everybody else, well, you might just want to eat a little less of the real thing. I wish I had, though my dinner could not have been more than a few hundred strange calories.

Rule #1: if it doesn't taste good don't put it in your mouth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Petrushka v. Mr Botox (Peter Pomerantsev 13 December 2011, London Review of Books)

United Russia is known as the 'party of meanies and swindlers', a phrase coined by Alexey Navalny. A suicidally brave anti-corruption activist, Navalny is the darling of Russian liberals, as well as of borderline skinhead nationalists. It's a powerful, broad base, and it means Navalny could develop into a major political player. Under Putin and Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin puppetmaster, a cheap postmodernism has been in vogue. It's been fashionable to be endlessly ironic and never say anything directly. Navalny is the opposite: he believes in facts, names those who profit from corruption (at great personal risk), and believes zealously in his values. And suddenly that's become very hip.

In the political arena, Navalny's stroke of genius has been to make the pseudo-elections, designed by the Kremlin as a form of puppet-theatre, real. In the past the opposition has always refused to vote, so as not to legitimise the puppet show, but that meant the Kremlin could cook up any figures they wanted. Navalny went for a different approach: 'vote for anyone but United Russia, even though the other parties may be dolls created by the Kremlin at least your vote will have weight'. It worked. The Kremlin is deeply shaken. The protests have been so widespread the Surkov-controlled channels had to put them on the news - though in a typically Surkovian move no mention was made of the anti-Putin chants or that the demonstrations were aimed at United Russia, making them look like general protests against an amorphous system. There's another absurd consequence to Navalny's strategy: while people are demanding their votes be recounted, the pseudo-opposition parties they voted for are generally keeping quiet as they are still loyal to the Kremlin.

So what comes next? How to make the puppet-theatre really real? Political analysts are talking about the possibility for one of the pseudo-opposition leaders suddenly having the balls to become a real opposition leader: Mikhail Prokhorov is the latest candidate. This is known as the Petrushka effect, after the puppet that comes to life in Stravinsky's ballet. In this scenario, the rebellious political Petrushka doll will do battle with the rubbery Putin-puppet Mr Botox. Locked up for a decade in the cellar of Putinism, Russia's Spitting Image dolls have burst out of their imprisonment. The Kremlin puppet-masters are suddenly not so powerful. The Kukli are free. Run, puppet, run!
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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Tebowing Goes Global as Winning Denver Quarterback Dazzles (Carol McKinley, Dec 14, 2011, Daily Beast)

Soldiers in Afghanistan Tebow in their camouflage. Surgeons do it in their scrubs. There's Santa giving the glory in his red suit! Basketball star Dwight Howard Tebows, and so does champion downhiller Lindsey Vonn (as of this week she and Tebow insist they are not dating).

There are Tebowing ultrasound babies. Tebow's own favorite? Tebowing While Chemoing. A tweet picture sent to Tebow's twitter, shows a boy on his knee hooked up to a chemo machine, in prayer, and the words "Im a cncr srvivr who's trsting u wth his fntsy team. hope your not getting anoyed."

Tebow was not 'anoyed.' When asked about it, he said, "How cool is that? That's worth it right there for that kid...if that gives him encouragement to pray, then that's really awesome and that's really worth it for me."
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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Russell Hoban: dedicated to strangeness: Tim Martin remembers the brilliance of Russell Hoban, the author of Riddley Walker, who has died aged 86. (Tim Martin, 14 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

"I myself would say I'm dedicated to strangeness," said Russell Hoban in 2005. "I find myself wondering what it is that looks out through my eyeholes, and I really don't know. It's this strangeness that I'm always pursuing in my writing, and it's this sorrow in each of us that I'm trying to get to and depict as accurately as I can."

Hoban died on Tuesday aged 86, leaving behind 16 wry, bittersweet and downright peculiar adult novels, and many more for children, that encapsulate the very definition of cult fiction. A unique worldview and style, coupled with some very specific obsessions, ran through almost everything he wrote, from the loss-laden Zen picaresque of The Mouse and his Child (the children's novel that Samuel Beckett never wrote) to the post-apocalyptic, language-crunching mysticism of Riddley Walker and beyond. Even Frances, the tiny and wilful badger who starred in his very earliest books for very small children, provided some classically sideways wisdom. "Your birthday," she soberly advised her imaginary friend Alice, "is always the one that is not now."

Hoban's books were endlessly quotable, with oddball wisdom lurking around the corner of each phrase even in the patchy later novels. For years, his dedicated fan club -- known as The Kraken, after one of Hoban's abiding favourite symbols -- celebrated his birthday in February each year by leaving typed passages from his novels on folded slips of yellow paper in public, an idea pillaged from his brain-knotting animist fantasy Kleinzeit (1974).

Russell Hoban, 'Frances' Author, Dies at 86 (BRUCE WEBER, 12/15/11, NY Times)

Mr. Hoban had several distinct careers. Trained as an illustrator, he wrote copy for advertising agencies and produced paintings for books and magazines, including several for Sports Illustrated and for Time magazine. His illustrations included a portrait of Holden Caulfield, the fictional protagonist of J. D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," and cover portraits of Joan Baez and Jackie Gleason that the subjects, Mr. Hoban said, did not like.

He began writing children's books in the late 1950s. His first, "What Does It Do and How Does It Work?," featured Mr. Hoban's own drawings of dump trucks, steam shovels and other heavy machinery. But he didn't care for illustrating his own books, and his second title, "Bedtime for Frances," a gentle tale about the delaying tactics of a child being sent off to bed, was illustrated by Garth Williams, with Frances as a furry little badger.

In the six Frances books that followed, including "A Baby Sister for Frances," "A Birthday for Frances" and a poetry collection, "Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs," the illustrator was Mr. Hoban's wife, Lillian.

All told Mr. Hoban wrote more than 50 books for children of various ages, from tots to adolescents -- including "The Story of Hester Mouse Who Became a Writer," "What Happened When Jack and Daisy Tried to Fool the Tooth Fairies" and "The Mouse and His Child" -- most of them before he turned his attention to writing adult fiction in the 1970s.

Russell Hoban, cult author, dies aged 86: Author of post-apocalyptic classic Riddley Walker as well as numerous children's books described himself as 'an addict to writing' (Alison Flood, 12/14/11,

Hoban joined the US army aged 18, and was posted to Italy during the second world war, where he served as a messenger, later awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in action. He worked as a freelance illustrator on his return to America, publishing his first book, the illustrated children's title What Does it Do and How Does it Work, in 1959.

As well as writing (and sometimes illustrating) more than 20 books for adults and children, Hoban's novel Turtle Diary was filmed with a Harold Pinter screenplay, and he also wrote the libretto to Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Second Mrs Kong.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2002, Hoban described himself as "simply an addict" to writing. "If I am kept away from writing I become physically unwell. It is art and the creation of art that sustains me. Things like Conrad's Nostromo or Schubert's Winterreise or Haydn's Creation or paintings by Daumier make me feel it is a good thing to be part of the human race," he said.

My hero: Russell Hoban by Will Self: 'He was wry, gentle and wise - one of William James's "once-born"' (Will Self, 12/14/11,

Born in 1925 in Pennsylvania to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants, Hoban was the rarest kind of writer: his works displayed complete diversity of subject matter, allied to a compelling unity of voice. Best known for Riddley Walker, perhaps the post-nuclear-apocalypse novel sans pareil, he wrote 15 other adult novels and many more for children. In the 1970s when I was first beginning to buy books for myself, Hoban was a member of a distinguished list at Picador, whose larger format paperbacks with full-bleed graphic covers were the hip thing to have on your bricks-and-boards bookcase.

Last year I did an event at the British Library to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his masterwork, and met Hoban for the first time. He was wry, gentle and wise - one of William James's "once-born", notwithstanding a life that had had its fair share of emotional turmoil. He told the audience that while he was serving in the signals corps during the second world war, his sense of direction had been so poor that he was continually getting lost. "The Germans saw me going by so many times," he said, "they probably thought I was an entire company on the move."

OBIT: Russell Hoban: Russell Hoban, who has died aged 86, was a maverick writer of extraordinary imaginative gifts and highly original turn of phrase; although he was sometimes compared to Tolkien and to CS Lewis, he conformed to no obvious literary tradition and was neglected by academics.  (The Telegraph, 12/14/11)

His was a unique vein of magical fantasy, taking themes (the nuclear holocaust, the massacre of Antioch) that seem too devastating for contemplation, and turning them into allegories in which humour was combined with intense imagery and narrative momentum.

Each novel was a singular creation, often with a plot so surreal it defied synopsis. In The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz (1973), set in a time when lions are extinct, a boy conjures up the ghost of a lion to pursue the father who abandoned him. In Turtle Diary (1975) two lonely, embittered souls meet at the zoo where they watch green sea turtles swimming peacefully in a tank, and hatch a scheme to return them to the ocean.

There were certain recurring themes and images: the Orpheus myth; Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring; the London underground system; the pump attendant from Edward Hopper's painting Gas; the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke; the legend of St Eustace; the lion; clockwork toys.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 12/14/11, NY Times)

That's right. America's role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. And this guy's running for president?

As for Newt, well, let's see: If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean -- as far as Newt is concerned -- that Israel's choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being "pro-Israel"?

I'd never claim to speak for American Jews, but I'm certain there are many out there like me, who strongly believe in the right of the Jewish people to a state, who understand that Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood yet remains a democracy, but who are deeply worried about where Israel is going today. My guess is we're the minority when it comes to secular American Jews. We still care. Many other Jews are just drifting away.

Burke said: 'For us to love our country, our country ought to be lovely.'  Israel is becoming unlovely.

December 14, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


What lies behind the Tories' poll bounce? (George Eaton, 14 December 2011, New Statesman)

Suddenly, after remaining static for months, the polls are moving again. The latest Reuters/Ipsos-MORI survey, carried out after the EU summit, puts the Tories in the lead for the first time this year, with support for Cameron's party rising seven points to 41 per cent and support for Labour falling two points to 39 per cent. Similarly, the latest daily YouGov poll has the Tories two points ahead of Labour, the first time they've led with that pollster since December 2010. Labour's lead, which has stood at five to six points for the last month, has evaporated.

Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but it certainly seems as if Cameron's EU stance has benefited his party.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The Civil Archipelago: How far can the resistance to Vladimir Putin go? ( David Remnick, December 19, 2011, The New Yorker)

Recently, I walked past 38 Petrovka--the headquarters of the Interior police--and crossed the street to the new headquarters of Memorial, a civil-rights group that began in 1987. Those were the early days of glasnost, when all kinds of neformaly, informal civic political groups, with names like Moscow Tribune and the Club of Social Initiatives, were suddenly allowed to bloom. The organizers of Memorial, some of them former dissidents and political prisoners, began with the idea that progress was impossible without proper commemoration of the horrors of the Soviet past. Activists for Memorial collected tens of thousands of signatures on petitions urging the Communist Party to build a monument to the "victims of illegal repressions" under Stalin. After a series of marches, conventions, and encounters with the Kremlin leadership, Memorial spread to dozens of provincial cities and towns.

Gorbachev was convinced that, in order to reform the country, he had to win over the intellectual class, and in 1988 he endorsed the idea of a monument at a Communist Party conference. But he was ambivalent about Memorial itself, rightly seeing it as the seed of a broader political opposition that would end up questioning the legitimacy of the system itself. "We have to somehow de-energize Memorial, really give it a local character," he declared to the politburo. "What this is about is not Memorial. It's a cover for something else." Gorbachev did not crack down on Memorial, but the group wasn't allowed to register, a bureaucratic maneuver that hampered its ability to collect funds and operate smoothly. At Andrei Sakharov's funeral, in 1989, Gorbachev asked Sakharov's widow, Elena Bonner, if there was anything he could do for her. She said, "Register Memorial."

Memorial survived. The Soviet Union did not. At Memorial's new headquarters, underwritten in part by the Ford Foundation and U.S.A.I.D., I was shown around the library and the archives, where, in the past two decades, scholars have done research for hundreds of new publications on the Soviet past. An archivist opened drawers filled with handkerchiefs, drawings, and other modest artifacts made, surreptitiously, by prisoners in the Gulag. The archivist pulled, at random, the file of one Vladimir Levitsky, who was imprisoned in 1932 for the crime of collecting stamps. Stamp collectors were suspected of trafficking in secret signs and codes. In 1937, Levitsky was shot at a labor camp called Olkhovka, near Krasnoyarsk.

Memorial has expanded in intent and practice over the years, becoming not only a research center, with libraries and archives around the country and a virtual library on the Gulag system, but also an important locus for human-rights work. It sponsors essay and outreach programs for schools. Sometimes, Memorial feels the pressure of officialdom. In 2008, police broke into its St. Petersburg offices and confiscated twelve hard drives that included an archive on Stalin, representing decades of work. The director there, Irina Flige, said it was an act of intimidation. Six months later, the courts told the police to return the hard drives.

One of Memorial's founders is a historian named Arseny Roginsky, whose father died in Stalin's prisons. Roginsky attracted the notice of the K.G.B. in Leningrad when, in the seventies, he started collecting a kind of proto-archive of documents about Soviet repression; in the early eighties, he was sent to a prison camp for four years.

I had coffee with Roginsky, whom I've known for years, at Memorial's old headquarters, a less antiseptic set of offices, where the entry hall is plastered with photographs of heroic figures of the dissident era, and where Roginsky is allowed to smoke. Sitting in, and sometimes pacing, his minuscule office, Roginsky told me that the past few years have seen a proliferation of independent human-rights groups, media outlets, think tanks, academic departments, election watchdogs, and N.G.O.s not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but all over the country. Because their efficacy is so limited, so circumscribed by the Kremlin, they do not constitute a true civil society; rather, they are an archipelago of islands in a vast sea, barely connected to each other and ignored, at best, by the political élite.

"To speak in a grandiloquent way about it, this whole process is about shaping civil society," Roginsky said. "This is more important even than whatever we accomplish in human-rights cases or in the study of history. In this country, we have a lot of state and very little society. Our task is to make it so that there is more society and less state."

...Mr. Remnick's writing about the fall of the USSR is necessary reading.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Will Budget Cuts Doom Europe's Leaders? A New Paper Suggests No (Jordan Weissmann, Dec 13 2011, Atlantic)

Austerity, it appears, is ready to conquer Europe. Last week, the continent's leaders joined hands and agreed to pursue tighter integration on spending policy, including tough rules that would punish profligate governments. Meanwhile, new leaders in Greece and Italy are pushing budget reforms meant to win back the good graces of global investors.

How will all this new frugality play with voters? We have yet to see. But if Europe's heads of state are worried about their next election, they might take solace in a new study by Harvard economist Alberto Alesina.

The working paper, released this week, argues that governments that cut deficits by slashing spending or raising taxes don't necessarily suffer at the polls. Focusing on the years from 1975 through 2008, it looks at the electoral fortunes of governments in the 19 early members of the OECD. Those include rich European nations such as Britain, Germany, and Italy, as well as the United States and Japan. Despite the conventional wisdom that spending cuts and tax hikes are political poison, the study concludes that there is "no evidence that governments which reduce budget deficits even decisively are systemically voted out of office."

Voters like successful governments.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Israeli military base attacked by Jewish extremists in West Bank (Phoebe Greenwood, 13 December 2011, The Guardian)

A gang of 50 Jewish settlers and rightwing activists have broken into an army base near the Israeli settlement of Kedumim in the West bank, setting fire to tyres and hurling rocks at both Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. [...]

The attack is the latest in a wave of violent retributions exacted by extremist Jewish settler groups against Palestinians and the Israeli Defence Forces in response to government policy to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank. A spokesperson for the Israeli military said it was the most serious assault on its forces by Jewish activists to date.

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, described the incident as "homegrown terror", which he warned would not be tolerated. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


5 Disruptive Technologies Happening Now (Antonio Regalado, 12/14/11, Technology Review)

Genetic switch: We've heard a lot about the plummeting cost of decoding DNA. Unraveling the first human genome in 2001 cost more than $3 billion; today the price would be closer to $10,000. This year, a Pulitzer Prize was awarded for stories that documented how one family, baffled by their son's mysterious illness, simply had his entire genome analyzed to determine the cause.

The profound medical impacts are accompanied by disruptions in the $1.5 billion market for DNA sequencing. The newcomers are companies such as Ion Torrent, whose "Personal Genome Machine" is pictured. The $50,000 sequencer is among a breed of fast, cheap DNA decoders that are replacing more costly machines that use the gold-standard technology called capillary-gel electrophoresis. The new machines use different chemistry, and come with trade-offs: they are less accurate and read out DNA in shorter bits (a problem if you are trying to puzzle together a human genome with three billion DNA letters). Yet as fast-and-dirty DNA reading has improved, the industry is being swept by changes. One of the most remarkable: many researchers don't even buy sequencing machines any longer. Instead, when they need DNA decoded, they ship it out to mail-order laboratories that return results in a few days.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


The diagnosis (Xeni Jardin, Dec 9, 2011, Boing Boing)

Two friends of mine were recently diagnosed. When news of the first came, I felt sadness. When news of the second came a few weeks ago, I felt a different kind of shock. I'd never had a mammogram. Even though I was ten years younger than the time they say you need to start, it felt like time to start, and when her news came I thought: I need to do this right now. For my friends, for me. Solidarity. Something small I can do, some little action against the big unknowable that swoops down without warning and strikes the ones we love.

Around the same time, I'd became aware of a funny stiffness in a spot on my own body. But anomalies in women's bodies come and go all the time, and it was a fluid whatever-thing, something that would pass, definitely not a lump, nothing that my waking, speaking mind would grasp as danger. This anomaly must be misplaced anxiety, my logic-brain tried to explain to my lizard-brain; maybe it's me wanting to make my friend's bad news all about me.

I called my insurance company for a clinic referral, then dialed a few places on a list the guy in their Indian call center emailed. Over the phone, the clinics all sounded like places you'd take a pork chop to be examined, not a human breast, not a person, and not me. I googled around and found a place with a lot of stars on Yelp and other online ratings services from women who'd gone and felt they'd been treated well. Pink Lotus Breast Center. The women who answered the phone there sounded cool.

We pray for her recovery, but what's revealing here is how she discusses the whole process--it's as much about joining a cult as getting medical treatment.

December 13, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Send the Marine: France's far-right Front National party, under leader Marine Le Pen, is shedding its history of anti-Semitism and becoming popular with Jewish voters (Robert Zaretsky, December 12, 2011, Tablet)

French Republicanism--the doctrine that affirms the equality and liberty of citizens and requires that the public sphere be entirely free of ethnic or religious claims--is the crossroads at which the Front National and French Jewry seem slated to either collide or collaborate. Upon their civil emancipation during the French Revolution, French Jews embraced republicanism, particularly its emphasis on a secular society, as their own.

But that might not be the case for much longer. The national debate over immigration and national identity--issues that involve the 5 million Muslims, mostly of North African origin, living in France--seems shriller by the day. The urban riots that convulsed France in 2005, followed by the appalling death of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew tortured and murdered by several youths of North African background, have had an especially powerful impact on French Jewry. It may well be that the community has reached a point no less pivotal than 1967, when the Six-Day War, followed by Charles de Gaulle's notorious remark that Jews were an elite and domineering race, ignited French Jewish self-consciousness.

According to Jean-Yves Camus, the political scientist, at least 5 percent of Jewish voters will support Le Pen in 2012. While he and other specialists debate the precise number--there are no surveys on the question--they agree that France's Jewish community has been moving steadily toward the political right and, indeed, to the extreme right. Clearly, a Jewish Le Pen supporter is no longer the oxymoron it once was. Richard Prasquier, of the Jewish council, worries about this potentially tectonic shift, suggesting that French Jews are increasingly "receptive to and tempted by Le Pen's discourse." Perhaps the most immediate reason for this evolution is, that "for the first time since World War II, French Jews are afraid," said the intellectual Alain Finkielkraut.

These so-called transfuges--voters who cross not just party but ideological lines--clearly welcome Le Pen's repeated claims that current immigration policies will destroy French culture and society. As she declared at a party conference in September, France is "confronted by a multiculturalism that is wreaking havoc with her laws, her mores, her traditions, in short the values of her civilization and her identity." The Front National promises to slam shut the door on immigration, encourage legal aliens to leave the country, and beef up the police force. Insecurity will, on cue, disappear. As for national identity, Le Pen has borrowed a few pages from her father. Earlier this year she described as a "new occupation" the practice of Muslims in Paris praying on the sidewalks, lacking sufficient space in mosques. And there is the élan with which Le Pen has continued her party's tradition of holding an annual celebration at the statue of Joan of Arc in Paris, which makes it all too easy for the fearful to see Marine Le Pen's battle against the barbarian hordes from across the Mediterranean as a continuation of Joan's struggle against the perfidious invaders from across the Channel. (Or, for that matter, against Brussels. Le Pen has astutely tied fears over immigration to her denunciations of globalization and the European Union. As the euro crisis worsens, her popularity improves.)

Against this background, Le Pen's effort to seduce the French Jewish community takes on even greater significance. It is only by channeling popular fear and loathing at Muslims that the Front National has made room under its "republican" umbrella for its previous bête noire: the Jews.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Why Islamists Are Better Democrats (Bobby Ghosh, 12/19/11, TIME)

The Islamists, it turns out, understand democracy much better than the liberals do. The Ennahda and the FJP were not just better organized, they also campaigned harder and smarter. Anticipating allegations that they would seek to impose an Iranian-style theocracy in North Africa, the Islamists formed alliances with some secular and leftist parties and very early on announced they would not be seeking the presidency in either country. Like smart retail politicians everywhere, they played to their strengths, capitalizing on goodwill generated by years of providing social services -- free hospitals and clinics, soup kitchens -- in poor neighborhoods. And they used their piety to assure voters that they would provide clean government, no small consideration for a population fed up with decades of corrupt rule. Even the Salafis, who openly pursue an irredentist agenda and seek a return to Islam's earliest days, benefited from the perception that they are scrupulously honest.

Having shown themselves adept at winning elections, will the Islamists now prove to be good democrats? There's reason for hope. Ennahda and FJP leaders have for the most part sounded conciliatory rather than triumphal: they have sought to broaden alliances and bring more liberals into their tents. Critics say this is all a ruse, but Tunisian and Egyptian voters have insured their democracy against ruses by leaving Ennahda and FJP well short of absolute majorities. (Read "In Egypt, Will Democratic Legitimacy Trump Military Legitimacy?")

Having proved themselves poor campaigners, will the defeated liberals now play by the rules? These require them to play a constructive role in parliament's opposition benches rather than undermine the elections by returning to street protest. They also must prepare for elections expected in 2012 and '13. They still have time to learn to be better democrats -- like the Islamists.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


A Lesson Before Dying: To bemoan illness after a good life seemed ungrateful. (BRET STEPHENS, 12/12/11, WSJ)

How did my father maintain his composure in the face of his progressive deterioration? We never spoke about it. I sometimes chalked it up to being born in the 1930s, before the baby boom and the cult of self. He was not a complainer. To bemoan his illness after a life in which the good breaks outnumbered the bad ones would have seemed to him ungrateful. The worst he ever said to me about his cancer was that it was "a bummer."

Yet there was something else at work. The sicker my father got, the more dependent he became on his family, the less he had to give back. What could he offer, except not to sink us into the terror he surely must have felt? So he maintained his usual active and joyful interest in our lives and the lives of his friends and in politics and the movies we watched together. Sticking to the mundane and the lighthearted was his way of being protective with the people he loved. For as long as he could muster his wits, death was not allowed to enter the room.

Throughout his life my father taught me many lessons: about language, history and philosophy; about ethics, loyalty and love. In the end, he taught me that death cannot destroy the dignity of a dignified man.

Charles J. Stephens, 1937-2011. May his memory be for a blessing. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


"What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?": They have sacrificed their distinctive beliefs and principles and received little in return. (Mehdi Hasan, 12 December 2011, New Statesman)

"What is the point of the Lib Dems?" ask politicians, journalists, Lib Dem activists, Labour activists, students, taxi drivers and anyone else who has ever expressed a view on - or even a passing interest in! - British politics.

There are only ever two real parties, one oriented more towards security and one more towards liberty.  The rest just flatter the vanity of the members.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


The Book of Jobs: Forget monetary policy. Re-examining the cause of the Great Depression--the revolution in agriculture that threw millions out of work--the author argues that the U.S. is now facing and must manage a similar shift in the "real" economy, from industry to service, or risk a tragic replay of 80 years ago. (Joseph E. Stiglitz, January 2012, Vanity Fair)

At the beginning of the Depression, more than a fifth of all Americans worked on farms. Between 1929 and 1932, these people saw their incomes cut by somewhere between one-third and two-thirds, compounding problems that farmers had faced for years. Agriculture had been a victim of its own success. In 1900, it took a large portion of the U.S. population to produce enough food for the country as a whole. Then came a revolution in agriculture that would gain pace throughout the century--better seeds, better fertilizer, better farming practices, along with widespread mechanization. Today, 2 percent of Americans produce more food than we can consume.

What this transition meant, however, is that jobs and livelihoods on the farm were being destroyed. Because of accelerating productivity, output was increasing faster than demand, and prices fell sharply. It was this, more than anything else, that led to rapidly declining incomes. Farmers then (like workers now) borrowed heavily to sustain living standards and production. Because neither the farmers nor their bankers anticipated the steepness of the price declines, a credit crunch quickly ensued. Farmers simply couldn't pay back what they owed. The financial sector was swept into the vortex of declining farm incomes.

The cities weren't spared--far from it. As rural incomes fell, farmers had less and less money to buy goods produced in factories. Manufacturers had to lay off workers, which further diminished demand for agricultural produce, driving down prices even more. Before long, this vicious circle affected the entire national economy.

The value of assets (such as homes) often declines when incomes do. Farmers got trapped in their declining sector and in their depressed locales. Diminished income and wealth made migration to the cities more difficult; high urban unemployment made migration less attractive. Throughout the 1930s, in spite of the massive drop in farm income, there was little overall out-migration. Meanwhile, the farmers continued to produce, sometimes working even harder to make up for lower prices. Individually, that made sense; collectively, it didn't, as any increased output kept forcing prices down.

Given the magnitude of the decline in farm income, it's no wonder that the New Deal itself could not bring the country out of crisis. The programs were too small, and many were soon abandoned. By 1937, F.D.R., giving way to the deficit hawks, had cut back on stimulus efforts--a disastrous error. Meanwhile, hard-pressed states and localities were being forced to let employees go, just as they are now. The banking crisis undoubtedly compounded all these problems, and extended and deepened the downturn. But any analysis of financial disruption has to begin with what started off the chain reaction.

The Agriculture Adjustment Act, F.D.R.'s farm program, which was designed to raise prices by cutting back on production, may have eased the situation somewhat, at the margins. But it was not until government spending soared in preparation for global war that America started to emerge from the Depression. It is important to grasp this simple truth: it was government spending--a Keynesian stimulus, not any correction of monetary policy or any revival of the banking system--that brought about recovery. The long-run prospects for the economy would, of course, have been even better if more of the money had been spent on investments in education, technology, and infrastructure rather than munitions, but even so, the strong public spending more than offset the weaknesses in private spending.

Government spending unintentionally solved the economy's underlying problem: it completed a necessary structural transformation, moving America, and especially the South, decisively from agriculture to manufacturing. Americans tend to be allergic to terms like "industrial policy," but that's what war spending was--a policy that permanently changed the nature of the economy. Massive job creation in the urban sector--in manufacturing--succeeded in moving people out of farming. The supply of food and the demand for it came into balance again: farm prices started to rise. The new migrants to the cities got training in urban life and factory skills, and after the war the G.I. Bill ensured that returning veterans would be equipped to thrive in a modern industrial society. Meanwhile, the vast pool of labor trapped on farms had all but disappeared. The process had been long and very painful, but the source of economic distress was gone.

The parallels between the story of the origin of the Great Depression and that of our Long Slump are strong. Back then we were moving from agriculture to manufacturing. Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy. The decline in manufacturing jobs has been dramatic--from about a third of the workforce 60 years ago to less than a tenth of it today. The pace has quickened markedly during the past decade. There are two reasons for the decline. One is greater productivity--the same dynamic that revolutionized agriculture and forced a majority of American farmers to look for work elsewhere. The other is globalization, which has sent millions of jobs overseas, to low-wage countries or those that have been investing more in infrastructure or technology. (As Greenwald has pointed out, most of the job loss in the 1990s was related to productivity increases, not to globalization.) Whatever the specific cause, the inevitable result is precisely the same as it was 80 years ago: a decline in income and jobs. The millions of jobless former factory workers once employed in cities such as Youngstown and Birmingham and Gary and Detroit are the modern-day equivalent of the Depression's doomed farmers.

And not only does no one miss those farm jobs, but you can't get them to take the many open ones we have today.  Being liberated from labor by productivity, technology, and globalization is an opportunity, not a crisis.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


It's official: In 50 years time Israel won't work (Amir Mizroch, 12/11/11, Forecast Highs)

In an exclusive story released today in Hebrew, Israel Radio published a report compiled by the Central Bureau of Statistics which posits interesting forecasts of Israel's population makeup in 50 years time [the year 2059]. [...]

According to the CBS report, in the year 2059 there will be some 16 million souls living in Israel.

The non ultra-Orthodox population will grow by almost 50% to 8 million people. These secular, and national religious people now make up 70% of the Israeli population, but will drop to 50% in 50 years time. That means only half the country's adults will serve in the army and join the workforce.

Israel's Arab population will grow by 135% to reach 3.5 million people. This sector currently makes up 20% of Israeli sociey, and is expected to grow to 25% by the year 2059.

The ultra-Orthodox population will grow by 580% to reach 5 million people. The ultra-Orthodox currently make up 10% of Israeli society, and according to the CBS report, is expected to rise to over 30%. Why this last statistic is alarming, to me anyway, is the fact that this sector of the population, by and large, does not work, and does not teach its children any of the core subjects that will make them employable in the future. This places an increasingly heavy burden on the taxpaying secular middle class, which is shrinking and will find this burden increasingly untenable. The resources of the government are going to be increasingly shifted towards maintaining this sector, providing it with state subsidies, as well as subsidized housing. This sector also does not serve in the army - placing an increasing burden on the country's armed forces.

With these kinds of numbers though, the ultra-Orthodox population should have enough electoral stregth to thwart any attempt at changing the status quo, i.e. forcing the haredim to work, teach core subjects, and serve in the army. Furthermore, as we have increasingly witnessed, the ultra-Orthodox community is imposing ever stricter restrictions on women in society. The sector is increasingly brushing up against Israeli secular society and the resulting clashes are becoming more and more ugly. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Largest-Ever Simulation of the Universe Revealed (Physics arXiv Blog, 12/12/2011)

Back in 1970, Jim Peebles at Princeton University carried out a ground-breaking experiment. He used the new-fangled technology of computing to simulate the behaviour of a cluster of galaxies under the force of gravity.

This simulation was tiny by modern standards: it involved just 300 'particles'. But it showed that computer models could give an important insight into the formation of structures on a grand scale. It's fair to say that this and other early simulations revolutionised cosmology.

Today, Juhan Kim at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study in Seoul, and a few pals, show just how far this technique has come. These guys have carried out the largest simulation of the universe ever undertaken, consisting of 374 billion particles in a box some 10 gigaparsecs across. That's roughly equivalent to about two thirds the size of the observable universe.

December 12, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Obama abroad: Democratic realism (E.J. Dionne Jr., 12/11/11, Washington Post)

Something important has happened to President Obama's foreign policy. For some time after he took office, he only rarely spoke out for human rights or used the word "democracy." In the wake of the George W. Bush years, he was focused on rebuilding alliances and moving toward both a more measured and prudent use of American power. It was an approach much closer to the old-fashioned realism practiced by the first President Bush.

Overall, it was a change for the better. But for a while, it seemed that the administration decided that because the second President Bush used democracy promotion as a rationale for a mistaken war in Iraq, too much democracy talk might be a bad thing. This was the wrong conclusion. Those who think of themselves as progressives should never avoid their obligations to democracy -- even if there are both prudential and moral limits to America's capacity to impose it on others.

This is evolving, as Clinton's excellent week brought home. Like the elder Bush, Obama remains a foreign policy realist, but the Arab Spring may have encouraged him to speak ever more forcefully about democracy and human rights. The intervention in Libya -- careful, limited, but effective -- was a signal moment.

What the president is pursuing might best be described as "democratic realism," although it is perhaps ironic that this term was first popularized by my Post colleague Charles Krauthammer, a conservative who is a sharp Obama critic.

In a 2004 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Krauthammer defined democratic realism this way: "We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity -- meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom."

...the secularists support democracy abroad only when it's good for them here at home; the Evangelicals, like Reagan and W, support it because it's good for those abroad, irrespective of the cost to us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


America's New Energy Security: Thanks to new technology, the U.S. has become less dependent on petroleum imports from unstable countries. (DANIEL YERGIN, 12/11/11, WSJ)

Every president since Richard Nixon has called for energy independence. Nevertheless, U.S. reliance on imported oil long seemed to be headed in only one direction--up--and that pointed to inevitably increasing dependence on the huge resources of the Middle East.

No longer. U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak--60%--of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%.

What's happening? Part of the answer is demand. U.S. oil consumption reached what might be called "peak demand" in 2005 and has since declined. The country has become more efficient in its use of petroleum, and that will continue as vehicle fuel economy goes up. The economic slump has also muffled demand.

But developments on the supply side are particularly striking. U.S. crude oil output has risen by 18% since 2008. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Nuns should go on the Pill, says Lancet study (Martin Beckford,  08 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

A paper in The Lancet claims that Roman Catholic nuns pay a "terrible price for their chastity", as not having babies puts them at greater risk of breast, ovarian and uterine tumours.

This is because women who never give birth or breastfeed have more periods than those who do, and an increased number of menstrual cycles has been linked to higher cancer risk.

By contrast, the contraceptive pill has been shown to significantly reduce the chances of women developing ovarian and uterine cancers without increasing breast cancer risk.

Australian scientists claim that in spite of the Vatican's prohibition on artificial birth control, an document written by a former Pope suggests that nuns could be allowed to take the Pill.

002:018 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be
        alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

002:019 And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the
        field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam
        to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called
        every living creature, that was the name thereof.

002:020 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air,
        and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not
        found an help meet for him.

002:021 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he
        slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh
        instead thereof;

002:022 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a
        woman, and brought her unto the man.

002:023 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my
        flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of

002:024 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and
        shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Escaping the Oil Curse (Jeffrey Frankel, 12/09/11, Project Syndicate)

Why do oil riches turn out to be a curse as often as they are a blessing?

Economists have identified six pitfalls that can afflict natural-resource exporters: commodity-price volatility, crowding out of manufacturing, "Dutch disease" (a booming export industry causes rapid currency appreciation, which undermines other exporters' competitiveness), inhibited institutional development, civil war, and excessively rapid resource depletion (with insufficient saving).

Oil prices are especially volatile, as the large swings over the last five years remind us. The recent oil boom could easily turn to bust, especially if global economic activity slows.

Volatility itself is costly, leaving economies unable to respond effectively to price signals. Temporary commodity booms typically pull workers, capital, and land away from fledgling manufacturing sectors and production of other internationally traded goods. This reallocation can damage long-term economic development if those sectors nurture learning by doing and fuel broader productivity gains.

The problem is not just that workers, capital, and land are sucked into the booming commodity sector. They also are frequently lured away from manufacturing by booms in construction and other non-tradable goods and services. The pattern also includes an exuberant expansion of government spending, which can result in bloated public payrolls and large infrastructure projects, both of which are found to be unsustainable when oil prices fall. If the manufacturing sector has been "hollowed out" in the meantime, so much the worse.

Even if an increase in oil prices turns out to be permanent, pitfalls abound. Governments that can finance themselves simply by retaining physical control over oil or mineral deposits often fail in the long run to develop institutions that are conducive to economic development.

Such countries evolve a hierarchical authoritarian society in which the only incentive is to compete for privileged access to commodity rents. In the extreme case, this competition can take the form of civil war. In a country without resource wealth, by contrast, elites have little alternative but to nurture a decentralized economy in which individuals have incentives to work and save. These are the economies that industrialize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM

Watch Band of Skulls (Full Performance) on PBS. See more from pbs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM

1) Gently melt the dark chocolate, heating it on very low heat or over hot water until it barely melts

2) Stir in the peppermint oil, then spread it into an 8" x 12" oval on parchment paper or foil.

3) Allow the chocolate to set, but not harden completely.

4) Melt the white chocolate the same way, and mix it with about half the peppermint crunch.

5) Spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate.

6) Sprinkle the rest of the peppermint crunch on top, pressing it in gently.

7) Allow the candy to cool until hardened, then break or cut it into chunks.

8) Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Yield: about 2 dozen pieces.

December 11, 2011

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Broncos, Tim Tebow rally late, again, to beat Chicago Bears 13-10 in OT (Mike Klis, 12/11/11, The Denver Post)

See there, Chicago? Now you know what they already knew in Miami and New York. The people there learned their lesson just like those in Oakland, San Diego and Minnesota.

And now the people of Chicago know.

It's never too late for Tebow Time.

There is no antidote, no potion for Tebow Magic. The Broncos' defense will force a fumble. The kicker will be true from beyond 50 yards. Receivers who were struggling all game with the drops will suddenly make superb catches.

Against the Chicago Bears here Sunday, the Broncos were goners, shut out for almost 58 minutes. They were down 10-0 as the 2-minute warning approached.

The Broncos, behind Tebow, beat the Bears anyway, 13-10, in overtime, on Matt Prater's 51-yard field goal. Since Tebow became the starter, the Broncos have gone 7-1. They are now 8-5 overall to lead the AFC West by one game with three to go.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Beppo raised an interesting question in the discussion of why store brand popcorn kernels are no different than Orville Redenbachers: are there some items where the quality of the name brand is truly superior? 

It's a pretty high bar to clear, as studies showing that even wine-tasters can't tell the "good" stuff from "swill" demonstrate.  There are many, many goods where you should just buy the cheapest thing on the shelf, like cofee, peanut butter, orange juice, milk, etc.  And your shampoo, deodorant, hand soap and the like should come from the local dollar store.  Heck, when we were kids the old man even drank a beer called Beer, that was sold at the A&P.  There are even cases where the rip-offs are superior, like generic Oreos instead of the real things.

But here's a nominee for an item where the name brand is the definitive product, to the point where the imitators ought not even call their version by the same name: Thomas's English Muffins. (The recipe is even the subject of famous intellectual property cases.)

Got any others?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SHOES (profanity alert):

As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes (Jenny Turner, 12/15/11, London Review of Books)

'Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism ... perhaps we should say no more about it': Simone de Beauvoir, at the very beginning of The Second Sex (1949). 'The subject is irritating, especially to women.' Long before they were shouting 'Ban the Bunny' and dressing up as butchers, feminists were annoying people, not just misogynists and sexists, but the very people you'd think would like them best. It was true in suffragette days, as it was during Women's Liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, and it's very much a problem for what boosters have been calling 'the third wave' since the early 1990s. We know the angry squiggles that signify this irritation - the hairy-legged Millie Tant man-hater, Mrs Banks in the Disney Mary Poppins, a suffragette too busy to care for her children. And it's obvious how useful such stereotypes have been in neutralising the threat felt in the wider culture. But these caricatures obscure a real problem: a confusion between self and other, identity and difference, that you might charitably view as an unfortunate side-effect of being of and for and by women, all at once; or, less charitably, as narcissistic self-absorption.

It's true that women, as a gender, have been systemically disadvantaged through history, but they aren't the only ones: economic exploitation is also systemic and coercive, and so is race. And feminists need to engage with all of this, with class and race, land enclosure and industrialisation, colonialism and the slave trade, if only out of solidarity with the less privileged sisters. And yet, the strange thing is how often they haven't: Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed votes for freedmen; Betty Friedan made the epoch-defining suggestion that middle-class American women should dump the housework on 'full-time help'. There are so many examples of this sort that it would be funny if it weren't such a waste.

Not that the white middle-class brigade like being on the same side as one another. There's always a tension between all of us being sisterly, all equal under the sight of the patriarchal male oppressor, and the fact that we aren't really sisters, or equal, or even friends. We despise one another for being posh and privileged, we loathe one another for being stupid oiks. We hate the tall poppies for being show-offs, we can't bear the crabs in the bucket that pinch us back. All this produces the ineffable whiff so often sensed in feminist emanations, those anxious, jargon-filled, overpolite topnotes with their undertow of envy and rancour, that perpetual sharp-elbowed jostle for the moral high ground.

Looked at one way - in the manner of Joan Didion, for example, in her harsh, oddly clouded but startlingly acute essay of 1972 on the Women's Movement - the idea of feminism is obviously Marxist, being about the 'invention', as Didion put it, 'of women as a "class"', a total transformation of all relationships, led by the group most exploited by relations in their current form. So why did the libbers so seldom say so? Well, some came to the movement as Marxists, and did. Sheila Rowbotham wrote that 'the so-called women's question is a whole-people question' in Women's Liberation and the New Politics (1969); then in 1976 Barbara Ehrenreich stressed that 'there is no way to understand sexism as it acts on our lives without putting it in the historical context of capitalism.' Others shoved the categories in great handfuls through the blender: 'sex-class' must 'in a temporary dictatorship' seize 'control of reproduction' according to Shulamith Firestone in The Dialectic of Sex (1970).

More prevalent, however, was what Didion called a 'studied resistance to the possibility of political ideas' - who, in any case, ever heard of a radical-feminist movement taking its understanding of historical change from a man? The entire Marxist tradition was repressed, leaving a weird sinkhole that quickly filled up with the most dreadful rubbish: wise wounds, herstory, nature goddesses, raped and defiled; sisters under the skin, flayed and joined, like the Human Centipede, in a single biomass; the fractal spread of male sexual violence, men f[***] women replicated at every level of interaction, as through a stick of rock.

And so Women's Liberation started trying to build a man-free, women-only tradition of its own. Thus consciousness-raising, or what was sometimes called the 'rap group', groups of women sitting around, analysing the frustrations of their lives according to their new feminist principles, gradually systematising their discoveries. And thus that brilliant slogan, from the New York Radical Women in 1969, that the personal is political, an insight so caustic it burned through generations of mystical nonsense - a woman's place is in the home, she was obviously asking for it dressed like that. But it also corroded lots of useful boundaries and distinctions, between public life and personal burble, real questions and pop-quiz trivia, political demands and problems and individual whims. 'Psychic hardpan' was Didion's name for this. A movement that started out wanting complete transformation of all relations was floundering, up against the banality of what so many women actually seemed to want.

Since the traditional role and near universal archetype of woman is as the loving partner and nurturing mother then it was only natural for the reaction against womanhood to be centered around monstrous selfishness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM



Tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across Russia on Saturday to protest alleged vote-rigging in what observers said were the largest antigovernment demonstrations in at least a decade.

Dozens arrested across Russia as opposition party calls for mass rallies around the country. Video courtesy of Reuters.

The huge display of popular anger raised the pressure on the Kremlin, which has so far dismissed the postelection discontent as instigated by the U.S. to undermine the Kremlin. But there was no sign that the authorities were willing to even consider opponents' demands for new elections or a full recount of the disputed Dec. 4 parliamentary vote.

Opposition leaders vowed to keep up the pressure with more demonstrations in a bid to disrupt Mr. Putin's chances in March presidential elections, when he was planning to secure a six-year term in office.

One opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov wrote in Twitter late Saturday that "We will gather millions" at demonstrations planned for Dec. 17, 18 and 24. "Putin has no choice--in March everyone will see that the king has no clothes."

Of course liberalization is an American plot. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Tim Tebow: God's Quarterback: He has led the Denver Broncos to one improbable victory after another--defying his critics and revealing the deep-seated anxieties in American society about the intertwining of religion and sports. (PATTON DODD, 12/09/11, WSJ)

But Mr. Tebow has never been content to leave his evangelical faith on the field. Well before he became the starting quarterback for Denver, he was a lightning rod in America's intermittent culture war of believers vs. secularists.

In 2010, while still at the University of Florida (where he won the Heisman Trophy and helped the Gators to win two national championships), Mr. Tebow filmed a Super Bowl commercial for Focus on the Family, the mega-ministry known for its conservative political advocacy. The ad is about how Mr. Tebow's mother was advised to abort her son following a placental abruption, but she refused and, well, now we have Tim Tebow.

The ad takes the softest possible approach to the subject and never uses the terms "abortion" or "pro-life," but its intent was clear, and it generated controversy. Since then, feelings about Mr. Tebow have been a litmus test of political and social identity. If you think he's destined to be a winner, you must be a naive evangelical. If you question his long-term chances as an NFL quarterback, you must hate people who love Jesus.

The intertwining of religion and sports is nothing new in American culture. Both basketball and volleyball were invented by men involved with chapters of the Young Men's Christian Association in Massachusetts. Or consider the pioneering college coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862-1965), who created the batting cage in baseball, five-man teams for basketball and several of the standard aspects of football, from the man in motion, lateral pass and Statue of Liberty play to helmets, tackling dummies and names on uniforms.

The historian Clifford Putney has written that Stagg and his contemporaries combined faith with sports and competition because they believed that God wanted people to live healthy, vigorous lives. They believed that sports could help to make people good and thereby bring them closer to what God intended for them.

As Michael Lewis reports in his 2006 book "The Blind Side," one of the standard problems of today's top athletes--one of the main threats to long careers--is defective character. He offers a depressing list of high-school football standouts who came to ignoble ends because of selfishness and stupidity, including Eric Jefferson, a first-team all-American defensive end who was arrested for armed robbery, and Michael Burden, an NFL-bound defensive back who was charged with rape and then "vanished without a trace."

More recently, we have seen the disrupted careers of star athletes like Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Tiger Woods--men whose lives in professional sports have been undermined by character faults. Such stories are more common than we realize. For every Michael Oher (Mr. Lewis's subject in "The Blind Side") who overcomes harsh beginnings and makes it, there are many other promising athletes who are overcome by their own worst impulses. They lose, the game loses and fans lose.

Alternatively, keeping the faith can mean keeping one's best possible life. Josh Hamilton, the All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers, lost part of his career to drug and alcohol addiction before finding the support of a religious community. Tony Dungy, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, says that his reputation for "quiet strength" (also the title of his best-selling book) developed only after God changed him from an angry, testy man into a model of "Christian maturity."

In the case of Mr. Tebow, what seems to fuel many of his fans--and to drive many of his critics crazy--is not so much his evangelical faith itself but the equanimity and generosity that his faith inspires in him. Can he really mean it when he says that football isn't that important to him, that he cares more about transcendent things? 

December 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


Rape in the US military: America's dirty little secret (Lucy Broadbent, 12/09/11,

Rape within the US military has become so widespread that it is estimated that a female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. So great is the issue that a group of veterans are suing the Pentagon to force reform. The lawsuit, which includes three men and 25 women (the suit initially involved 17 plaintiffs but grew to 28) who claim to have been subjected to sexual assaults while serving in the armed forces, blames former defence secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates for a culture of punishment against the women and men who report sex crimes and a failure to prosecute the offenders.
Military rape: Military rape

Since the lawsuit became public in February, 400 more have come forward, contacting attorney Susan Burke who is leading the case. These are likely to be future lawsuits. Right now they are anxiously awaiting a court ruling to find out if the lawsuit will go to trial. The defence team for the department of defence has filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing a court ruling, dating back to 1950, which states that the government is not liable for injury sustained by active duty personnel. To date, military personnel have been unable to sue their employer.

Whether or not the case goes to trial, it is still set to blow the lid on what has come to be regarded as the American military's dirty little secret. Last year 3,158 sexual crimes were reported within the US military. Of those cases, only 529 reached a court room, and only 104 convictions were made, according to a 2010 report from SAPRO (sexual assault prevention and response office, a division of the department of defence). But these figures are only a fraction of the reality. Sexual assaults are notoriously under-reported. The same report estimated that there were a further 19,000 unreported cases of sexual assault last year. The department of veterans affairs, meanwhile, released an independent study estimating that one in three women had experience of military sexual trauma while on active service. That is double the rate for civilians, which is one in six, according to the US department of justice.

...and that women don't belong in the military.  That said, the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


William F. Buckley Jr.: Right Man, Right Time: a review of  BUCKLEY: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism By Carl T. Bogus (GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, 12/09/11, NY Times Book Review)

William F. Buckley Jr. was an immodest man with much to be immodest about. Not only was he the high priest of the modern American conservative movement and the founding editor in chief of its leading intellectual publication, National Review; he was also a gifted polemicist, best-selling novelist, sesquipedalian speaker, television star, political candidate, yachtsman, harpsichordist, wit and bon vivant. Small wonder that I once saw him nod approvingly when a tongue-tied freshman referred to his 1951 autobiographical best seller as "God as Man at Yale." He performed his many roles with such panache, and such obvious enjoyment of being William F. Buckley Jr., that he captivated people who otherwise would have despised someone who did much to move the United States politically to the right from the early 1950s until his death in 2008. But even liberals had to laugh when Buckley, asked whether he slouched in his chair as host of the TV program "Firing Line" because he couldn't think on his feet, drawled, "It is hard . . . to stand up . . . under the weight . . . of all that I know." [...]

Bogus identifies traditionalist conservatism with the views of the 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke and his ­latter-day adherents, notably Russell Kirk and the short-lived "new conservative" movement of the early 1950s. The traditionalists venerated deeply rooted communities and cultures, and worshiped established institutions and elites. They feared transformative ideologies and capitalism's potential for creative destruction. Traditionalists did not resist all change, Bogus points out, but they were pragmatists at heart: with Burke, they "believed that changes should be made carefully and with a healthy respect for the risks of unintended consequences." Set against them were the libertarians, who advocated unfettered individual freedom and an unregulated free market, and the neoconservatives, whom Bogus somewhat anachronistically equates with the most aggressive cold war interventionists seeking to "roll back" Communism around the globe. [...]

In flatly identifying Buckley as a libertarian and dismissing National Review's "fusionism," Bogus underestimates Buckley's masterly ability to hold together a movement that was riven by internal contradictions. In truth, Buckley considered himself a traditionalist as much as a libertarian, and artfully refused to take either of those tendencies to their logical conclusions. He opposed fanatics of all stripes. As a committed Catholic, he resisted the libertarian impulse to undermine established authority and devolve into anarchy. And while Buckley respected traditionalists like Kirk and the Agrarians (whom Bogus doesn't mention), he believed that Kirk was too fey in his medievalism, and the Southerners too openly desirous of owning black people, to allow them to dictate the conservative position. Bogus also overlooks Buckley's pragmatic evolution, evident in his famous pronouncement that he would support "the most right, viable candidate" rather than the most uncompromising conservative. Indeed, Buckley's pragmatism, tolerant spirit and intellectual sophistication are notably absent from the conservative movement today.

And yet Bogus's attempt to credit the success of the conservative movement almost exclusively to Buckley is ivory tower history with a vengeance. Ideas have consequences, but they don't make political realities by themselves. Liberals yearn for a Buckley of their own, someone who can build a movement on the left through the force of personality and philosophy. But they too often neglect the role of grubbier figures like William Rusher, Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich, none of whom are likely to attract admiring liberal biographers but who arguably did more than Buckley to mobilize conservatism as a political force at the grass roots. Until liberals see the history of the conservative movement whole, they are unlikely to learn from it.

Not that many on the Right understand the conservative movement or Mr. Buckley's project either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


The earth mother of all neolithic discoveries (John Lichfield, 10 December 2011, Independent)

French archaeologists have discovered an extremely rare example of a neolithic "earth mother" figurine on the banks of the river Somme.

The 6,000-year-old statuette is 8in high, with imposing buttocks and hips but stubby arms and a cone-like head. Similar figures have been found before in Europe but rarely so far north and seldom in such a complete and well-preserved condition.

The "lady of Villers-Carbonnel", as she has been named, can make two claims to be an "earth mother". She was fired from local earth or clay and closely resembles figurines with similar, stylised female bodies found around the Mediterranean.

On the series, How Art Made the World, V. S. Ramachandran offered an ingenious thesis about why these figurines, with their radically accentuated body parts, were so uniform and common, a theory derived from observations of herring gulls.  It certainly explains the Tittie Box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Tebow's Religion, and Ours: His authenticity irks our secular, selfish culture. (Daniel Foster, 12/03/11, National Review)

When the Detroit Lions' Stephen Tulloch sacked Tim Tebow in the first quarter of their week eight matchup, the linebacker immediately kneeled next to the prone Denver quarterback, in a mockery of Tebow's habit of praying on-field, most recently seen after his miraculous fourth-quarter comeback against the Dolphins the week before.

The insult coincided with and reinforced the explosion of "Tebowing" as an Internet meme, complete with a Twitter account and web-site. There you can see an act of communion with one's creator rendered as a bit of pop-cultural ephemera, and you can scroll through pictures of folks striking the pose everywhere from Oxford to Istanbul, with that muddle of irony and enthusiasm that has become my generation's trademark.

But there isn't an ironic bone in Tim Tebow's body. That's what makes him conspicuous. That's what makes the fact that he's managed to stay squeaky clean, in a sport that notoriously is not, conspicuous. And it's why the power of Tebow's evangelical-Christian faith, and the earnestness with which he professes it, seems to annoy so many people. was in no small part W's sincerity about his faith that made people hate him, nevermind his willingness to act on it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


Great Britain Saves Itself by Rejecting the EU: The French and Germans may howl with outrage, but David Cameron did the right thing in pulling up the drawbridge to a continent on the verge of collapse (Niall Ferguson, 12/09/11, Daily Beast)

To listen to some conservative commentary in London on Friday, you would think the British Prime Minister David Cameron just morphed into Winston Churchill, valiantly upholding England's ancient liberties against German aggression. In fact, what happened in Europe this week was nothing so grandiose.

David Cameron's refusal to back a Franco-German plan to revise the European Union treaty was the culmination of a consistent Conservative policy, dating back to Margaret Thatcher and continued under John Major. That policy has been to resist any steps taken in the name of European integration that would in practice lead to Britain's becoming a member of a federal Europe.

Cameron is not--despite the opprobrium that has been heaped on his head by everyone from the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander--a pathologically insular Little Englander. Like Margaret Thatcher, he believes in the single European market. Like John Major, he opposes British membership of the European monetary union. As over the Schengen Agreements on passport-free travel, as over the euro, Britain has once again reserved its right to retain sovereignty over key areas of policy.

It's an opportune moment for the UR to offer them admission to NAFTA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 AM


Book review: 'How the Dog Became the Dog': Mark Derr seeks to get at the existential mystery of that ancient link between people and dogs. (Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times)

["H]ow the Dog Became the Dog" takes aim at a variety of scientific questions such as whether the evolution of the dog from the wolf occurred 135,000 years ago or maybe as recently as 12,000 years ago (depending on the theory and proofs). For this reviewer, the most compelling takeaway point remains how little we truly understand about the reasons why I share my house with a domesticated descendant of a wolf and not, say, a raccoon or a miniature deer.

Because we chose to evolve the wolf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 AM


Furor surrounds Amazon's price-comparison app (Shan Li, 12/09/11, Los Angeles Times) Inc. and the nation's bricks-and-mortar retailers are in combat again, this time over the online giant's price-comparison tool that enables shoppers to quickly check out prices at rival merchants.

An uproar over the Price Check shopping app, used on mobile devices, erupted after Amazon launched a promotion for Saturday that gives customers 5% off (up to $5) on up to three qualifying items on its site if they check the prices of those goods on the app while browsing at a physical store.

Retail trade groups denounced the offer, saying it unfairly encouraged shoppers to check products at stores and then buy them online. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) entered the fray, calling the promotion "anti-competitive" and "an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities." Amazon defended the device as pro-consumer and not anti-small business.

She means, "ultracompetitive".  The problem being that your local store doesn't want you to realize how little their stuff should cost you.  If the folks who buy the basket of goods that determines the inflation rate just used the app no one would take inflation seriously except the goldbugs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 AM

JEFF The Brotherhood: Tiny Desk Concert (Lars Gotrich, 12/08/11, NPR)

Like the Ramones or early Weezer, the Nashville power-punk duo is really good at being funny without writing gimmicky songs. And, while "Bummer" ostensibly comes off a breakup record, We Are the Champions, it functions in the same humorously harsh way as Weezer's Pinkerton. You really feel for these guys, but you still want to bum-rush the mic and sing along, especially during the fuzzy rager "Shredder."


December 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


EU Treaty: after a feat close to genius, David Cameron's status is now as high as it has ever been: David Cameron has achieved an outcome previously thought wholly impossible (Peter Oborne, 12/09/11, The Telegraph)

[C]ameron has achieved an outcome that I would previously have judged wholly impossible. He has led Britain into a position where it is outnumbered 26-1 in Europe, and yet retained the support of the fanatically pro-Brussels Liberal Democrats.

On Friday night it was not just Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who were rallying round the Government. So were backbenchers such as Sir Menzies Campbell, the powerful Lib Dem grandee, although some colleagues accused their leader of betrayal. So an extraordinary new alliance had been created: Cameron's policy of principled, reasonable isolation is backed by the mutinous Tory Right, the pro-European Conservative Left and the Europhile Lib Dems.

It takes something close to genius to bring together such a warring group of diehard ideological opponents. Yet against all the odds and in defiance of conventional wisdom Cameron has achieved it.

How did he pull off this amazing feat? I do not believe that the Prime Minister cunningly plotted the outcome. I can discern no Mandelsonian dark arts, and no cunning strategy. Cameron did not travel to Brussels thinking how he could outmanoeuvre the Tory right, while keeping the Lib Dems sweet.

He won out because he played it straight. He wanted to do the right thing by Europe and by Britain. The evidence suggests that he was motivated by nothing more sophisticated than a determination to conduct himself with integrity and to act in the national interest. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Creating Artificial Intelligence Based on the Real Thing (STEVE LOHR, 12/08/11, NY Times)

Ever since the early days of modern computing in the 1940s, the biological metaphor has been irresistible. The first computers -- room-size behemoths -- were referred to as "giant brains" or "electronic brains," in headlines and everyday speech. As computers improved and became capable of some tasks familiar to humans, like playing chess, the term used was "artificial intelligence." DNA, it is said, is the original software.

For the most part, the biological metaphor has long been just that -- a simplifying analogy rather than a blueprint for how to do computing. Engineering, not biology, guided the pursuit of artificial intelligence. As Frederick Jelinek, a pioneer in speech recognition, put it, "airplanes don't flap their wings."

Yet the principles of biology are gaining ground as a tool in computing.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Traffic death rate falls to record low (Jerry Hirsch, December 8, 2011, LA Times)

The updated information released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also highlights that 2010 had the lowest fatality rate ever recorded, with 1.10 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2010, down from 1.15 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2009.

In another key statistic, regulators said deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers dropped 4.9% in 2010, taking 10,228 lives compared to 10,759 in 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


How an email saying Hugo Chavez was dead grew Venezuelan bond prices (Miguel Octavio, December 8, 2011, CS Monitor)

The whole thing was bizarre. Venezuela and PDVSA bonds were sort of mixed in the morning and all of a sudden, around noon, I noticed they were up strongly, but there was no news explaining it. Then, a friend calls and tells me New York is full of rumors suggesting that Chavez may have died. I got a dozen calls or chats on the topic within minutes. Given that he supposedly signed some documents mid-morning, it was hard to believe this could be true.

But the rally kept going. It was only later, that another friend sent me a denial by La Prensa. 

December 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Gingrich's Unimpeachable Conservative Credential (NATE SILVER, 12/07/11, NY Times)

I have seen a lot of other commentators bring up versions of this point, but there is a reason why Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, see Newt Gingrich as by far their most qualified nominee and why they have been willing so far to excuse his periodic lapses from conservative orthodoxy.

The reason is simply that under Mr. Gingrich's Congressional leadership, the Republican Party finally broke the New Deal coalition that had dominated American politics for more than a half-century, moving policy substantially to the right. That is a pretty impressive credential. [...]

What has happened since then? Mr. Gingrich resigned under the cloud of an ethics scandal in 1999. But there was no backlash to speak of; instead, the Republicans' score card since then has looked pretty good. They have won two of three presidential elections and retained control of the House of Representatives in three of the five elections. And they have continued to move toward the right on economic policy. The current 112th House is probably the most conservative since the New Deal on economic policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Europe's radical right focuses on fighting Islam (KARL RITTER, 12/07/11, Associated Press)

As daylight broke on June 4, worshippers found a mosque in southern Denmark defaced with drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and slogans urging Muslims to "go home."

In late October, a dismembered pig was buried on the construction site of a planned mosque on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

Both acts were the work of the Danish Defence League, a year-old far-right group that claims it's not opposed to foreigners in general, just Muslims.

"We are not racists. We are not Nazis," insists Bo Vilbrand, the group's 24-year-old spokesman. As if to prove his point he says the Danish Defence League welcomes blacks and Jews.

The group and its larger English forebear represent a new crop of right-wing radicals who don't fit the mold of the boot-stomping, Jew-hating neo-Nazis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Making it the traditional way (Lauren Chattman, 12/07/11, Newsday)

After my fling with microwave popcorn, I returned to doing it the old-fashioned way. My default method for popping corn was pretty simple: Put a little oil in a pot, add a few kernels, heat over high, and when the kernels popped add the rest and wait for them to push the lid toward the ceiling. [...]

Just as important as the cooking method is the freshness of the popcorn itself. Popcorn pops when the water molecules trapped inside the tough shell expand as they heat. The fresher the popcorn, the more moisture it retains, and the fluffier the result. There's little difference between premium and supermarket brands. The important thing is to buy your popping corn at a market with a lot of turnover, so you know it hasn't been sitting on the shelves and drying out for months or years. Store your popcorn in an airtight container or tightly sealed jar to help it retain its moisture. Keep it in a cool, dry place, but don't refrigerate or freeze it. At lower temperatures, the kernels will lose moisture more quickly. 

We just heat the beejeebies out of our wok, add a 1/2 cup of the cheapest kernels Shaw's carries and 3 tbsps of oil and then give the wok a good shake periodically so none of it burns.  Could hardly be easier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Britain gets a little more selfish (George Eaton, 07 December 2011, New Statesman)

Most voters (74 per cent) continue to believe that inequality is too large (down from 82 per cent in 2000) but just 34 per cent believe the government should redistribute more to solve the problem. Elsewhere, the percentage who believe that benefits for the unemployed are too high has risen from 37 per cent in 2000 to 55 per cent in 2010. This is all the more galling since inequality has continued to rise and benefits have failed to keep pace with earnings.

Worst of all, the left has lost the argument won by Tony Blair - that taxes should be increased to fund higher spending on health, education and social benefits. Just 30 per cent now believe that they should, down from 61 per cent in 2002. However, this undoubtedly reflects the fact that spending increased significantly during the Labour years. In other words, the NHS should now prioritise greater efficiency. Satisfaction with the health service (70%) is at its highest level ever recorded by the survey.

On climate change, just 26 per cent now say they would be willing to pay "much higher prices" to protect the environment, down from 43 per cent a decade ago, while just 22 per cent say they would be willing to pay "much higher taxes", down from 31 per cent a decade ago. In addition, 37 per cent think many claims about environmental threats are exaggerated, up from 24 per cent in 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Voters Flee Democratic Party in Key Swing States (Amy Bingham, 12/07/11, ABC News)

A report released today by the centrist think-tank Third Way showed that more than 825,000 voters in eight key battleground states have fled the Democratic Party since Obama won election in 2008.

"The numbers show that Democrats' path to victory just got harder," said Lanae Erickson, the report's co-author. "We are seeing both an increase in independents and a decrease in Democrats and that means the coalition they have to assemble is going to rely even more on independents in 2012 than it did in 2008." [...]

In eight states that will be must-wins in 2012 - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania - Democrats lost 5.4 percent of their registered voters while Republicans lost 3.1 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


The Progressive Consumption Tax: A win-win solution for reducing American income inequality. (Robert H. Frank, Dec. 7, 2011, Slate)

The good news is that we could pull a few simple policy levers that would greatly reduce the adverse effects of growing income gaps without threatening the benefits that have been made possible by improved technology and increased competition.

The simplest step would be to scrap the current progressive income tax in favor of a much more steeply progressive tax on each household's consumption. Families would report their taxable income to the IRS (ideally under a tax code that greatly simplifies the calculation of taxable income), and also their annual savings, as many now do for IRAs and other tax-exempt retirement accounts. The difference between those two numbers--income minus savings--is the family's annual consumption expenditure. That amount, less a large standard deduction--say, $30,000 for a family of four--is the family's taxable consumption. Rates would start low and would then rise much more steeply than those under the current income tax.

Families in the bottom half of the spending distribution would pay lower or no higher taxes than under the current system. But high marginal rates on top spenders would not only generate more revenue than the current system, but would also reshape spending patterns in ways that would benefit people up and down the income ladder.

If top marginal income tax rates are set too high, they discourage productive economic activity. In the limit, a top marginal income tax rate of 100 percent would mean that taxpayers would gain nothing from working harder or investing more. In contrast, a higher top marginal rate on consumption would actually encourage savings and investment. A top marginal consumption tax rate of 100 percent, for example, would simply mean that if a wealthy family spent an extra dollar, it would also owe an additional dollar of tax.

We are all neoconomists now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


How To Become An American: In the west Arkansas town of Magazine, one sure way for boys from the immigrant Hmong community to assimilate is to put on helmets, cleats and shoulder pads (CHARLES P. PIERCE, 12/10/11, Sports Illustrated)

Forty years ago Moua was a soldier in a war that few people knew about at the time, and even fewer remember today. He was one of the Hmong (pronounced mung) people in the mountains of Laos when the CIA came and enlisted them to fight against the North Vietnamese in a conflict that had embroiled most of Southeast Asia. Calling it the Vietnam War leaves you two countries short; one of them is Laos. Perhaps the Vietnamese have the right of it: They call it the American War. In any case, what remains true is that there are no mysteries about the U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. There are just truths we choose to ignore. The Hmong are one of those.

Now, on this scalded morning in western Arkansas, Moua waited for the return of his 16-year-old son, Charly. He was down the hill, on a football field. Practice had started at six that morning, because the school system wouldn't let the kids on the field any later in the day. The heat came down out of the mountains far ahead of the sun.

Charly rocked a kid in a pass rushing drill, and all of his teammates cheered. "It's fun," Charly would say later. "I like football because I can knock over bigger kids."

Thong Moua's son is a backup quarterback, a defensive back and a 2010 Arkansas state champion. He also is, against considerable odds, an American, and if it all seems like the settling of an ancient debt, that's because it is. [...]

One day in 1972, government troops came to Thong Moua's village, Long Tieng, and told him he was a soldier. He was 13. He fought for three years in a stubborn, brave guerrilla action for which his people paid an almost unimaginable price. Some 35,000 Hmong soldiers died in battle, according to Keith Quincy, whose book Harvesting Pa Chay's Wheat is the best account of the war the Hmong waged on behalf of the U.S. That toll, Quincy points out, would be "comparable to America's having lost 16.5 million men in combat."

In 1975, when their forces were finally routed by the North Vietnamese, the Hmong fled into the hills and jungles, where almost a third of them died of starvation and disease. One of those refugees was Thong Moua, who spent nearly four years on the run until finally crossing the Mekong River into Thailand. "You stay in the jungle," he recalls, "because if they know you're a soldier, they kill you. If you go back home, they kill you."

Moua lived for a year in a refugee camp in Thailand. The Hmong fighters had been promised that if the war went sour, they'd be repatriated to the U.S. Like so many things about that time, that promise had a sell-by date. Only a few thousand Hmong were repatriated. The rest stayed in the camps, and life in the camps was nightmarish, in part because the Thai government didn't want the Hmong there, but also because some Hmong leaders involved themselves in the drug trade. Fortunately, charitable organizations, especially church groups, stepped in and sponsored the movement of thousands of other Hmong to the U.S.

A church group placed Moua in Rhode Island, and then he moved to Massachusetts, where he worked factory jobs and where Charly was born. Moua stayed there until he heard from his uncle that Tyson was offering land and farms for the Hmong to work in Arkansas. The Hmong were farmers, and chickens had a special place in their culture dating back through the millennia. (An ancient Hmong legend credits a rooster with having saved the world.) Moua moved his family to Magazine six years ago and set up his chicken houses. His sons enrolled in school, and they began to play football, the way other Hmong children had before them.

What Jones and Powell were seeing in Magazine was the impact of the second wave of Hmong immigrants to Arkansas. The first had come in the early '80s, when nearly 300 Hmong were resettled in and around Fort Smith. Most of them found low-paying manufacturing jobs, including work in chicken-processing plants. They were vehemently opposed to the concept of welfare; according to a 1984 report sponsored by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Hmong phrase for welfare was "no arms, no legs." Consequently, when word got around Hmong communities in the U.S. in 2004 that Tyson was offering them the opportunity to run their own poultry farms in Arkansas, many jumped at the chance to live their own lives on their own land in a place where many of them already had relatives living for more than 20 years.

This second wave of Hmong residents was more visible than the first. They were also more easily integrated into the community; their English was better than that of their predecessors, and most of their children had been born in the U.S. To some extent they were already Americanized. Among other things, they knew what football was.

"I started noticing them in about fifth grade," says Ryan Chambers, Magazine's quarterback and the MVP in last year's state championship game. "I noticed Long and Chang [Yang] then. What I noticed first was that they were really fast. Then I noticed that they were really good."

As the Hmong players came up through the system, Jones and Powell, to say nothing of the rest of the community, adapted to them as much as the Hmong students adapted to the high school. "They were typically quiet, and they were intensely respectful," says Randy Bryan, the principal. "One of the big adjustments we had to make is that in their culture, it's considered very disrespectful to make eye contact. You'd be talking to a kid, and he'd be looking down, and your instinct is that he was being disrespectful, but it's just the opposite."

Andy Moua, Charly's eldest brother, was the first Hmong player on the Magazine varsity, a three-year starter and a versatile athlete who played a number of positions. His cousin Jay Moua came next. He especially delighted in tormenting Powell. "One time he had everybody here convinced that he was moving to Tulsa," Powell recalls. "He didn't even show up the first two weeks of practice. Someone finally said to me, 'Coach, he's not in Tulsa. I saw him downtown last night.' I called him and said, 'Hey, get to practice.' They brought fun, is what they did."

Jones says, "They'd get on each other. If one of them screwed up, they'd Hmong him pretty good. I don't think they ever did it to an official, though. They're pretty respectful that way."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


The Books Interview: Robert Service: The historian talks about the early years of the Soviet Union and its relationship with the west.  (Jonathan Derbyshire - 07 December 2011, New Statesman)

Do you think that the cold war acts as a kind of barrier to understanding the early years of the Soviet Union or as a distorting optic?

I think that we got into the habit of assuming that everything we needed to know about Russia happened inside Russia. But that's clearly not the case: a lot of what happened was conditioned by the western reaction to Russia. I'll give you a really good example of that precedes the cold war: Stalin industrialised the country to a very considerable extent through the purchase of American technology. America was going through the Great Depression in the 1930s and its manufacturers and government were only too happy to facilitate that commercial relationship. Without that technological transfer, Stalin would not have been able to build the factories that he constructed in the 1930s. [...]

You said that you wanted to examine the role played not just be statesman and generals, but also by journalists and fellow travellers. Let's take John Reed, who wrote Ten Days That Shook the World. Do you think that Reed was excessively credulous when it came to the Bolsheviks?

Yes. The pro-Bolshevik journalists, the fellow-travellers, some of them actually became Communists themselves for a time, like John Reed. They were very naïve about Lenin and Trotsky. Lenin and Trotsky knew how to talk to them in order to jolly them along because they needed people abroad who could sing their praises. Poor old John Reed - it took him two or three years to become disillusioned, but he was a very disillusioned man by the time when he died in 1920. He had seen Soviet communism from the inside and he detested its hypocrisies and its oppressiveness. But there was something about the Communist message - after all, it was a message about the liberation of humanity from national and economic oppression which resonated in the minds of people who had good reason to resent the conditions of politics and the economy in their own countries under capitalism. So it's not hard to see why people who were not very well-informed about conditions in Soviet Russia were drawn to communism in the 1920s and 1930s.

Among those who went and saw what they wanted to see were the founders of this magazine, Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Of those whom you describe as "dissenting journalists" in Petrograd in 1917, were many of them what we would later call "fellow-travellers"?

Yes, they were. But there were all sorts of fellow-travellers: there were fellow-travellers who wanted some sort of communism to be spread from Russia to the rest of the world (and people like John Reed were that sort), but there were some fellow-travellers who thought that communism suited Russia but that it wouldn't work anywhere else. One of these was Arthur Ransome, who told Lenin to his face it just would not take root in London. He's an interesting figure, Ransome, because at the same as he was what you might call a Soviet fellow-traveller, he was also a British secret intelligence agent. [...]

Winston Churchill was a particularly enthusiastic supporter of the Whites in the Russian civil war wasn't he?

He was. He would have brought down Bolshevism early on if he possibly could have done. But every time that he got too boisterous in the cabinet Lloyd George asked him to cost any enterprise that he might have in mind, and that usually shut Churchill up. But Churchill did the maximum he could, which was to lend assistance to the White armies. The British knew that the White armies were not the most liberal force in Russia; they turned a blind eye to that, thinking that, basically, Russia would be better off under the Whites than under the Reds.

Why was Lloyd George reluctant to give full-throated support to the Whites?

Britain was in a terrible economic condition: it was being financially bailed out by the Americans, the Labour movement was vigorously opposed to continued military intervention in Soviet Russia, and Lloyd George saw a trading opportunity and wanted to get in for the British before the Americans possibly got in under some forthcoming administration. So there was a bundle of reasons. What you do have to emphasise, though, is that Lloyd George was strongly supported in what he was doing, covertly, by a large section of the British business community, who didn't break cover about this because they didn't want to be seen as pro-Bolshevik. But they were pro-profit and so a lot of manufacturing enterprises in the North and in the Midlands were very very favourable to the Anglo-Soviet trade treaty of March 1921.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 AM


Whitehall's own Scottish nationalist (Gerald Warner, 10 December 2011, The Spectator)

The notion of Scotland being reoriented as a 'Scandinavian' country, at the expense of links with England, the Commonwealth and Europe, is odd enough; but stranger still is the revelation this week that the plan -- part of a massive 'Prospectus for Independence' -- is being put together by a branch of the UK civil service. These servants of the Crown have been tasked by Alex Salmond with selling separatism to the electorate, in advance of an independence referendum. For Scots it was a shock, but not a surprise. This is only the latest demonstration of how what ought to be part of the British government machine has been made an instrument of separatist propaganda.

This subversive scenario was never supposed to happen. The architects of devolution designed it on the premise of a seamless United Kingdom administrative structure, with the head of the Scottish Executive's civil service reporting to the Cabinet Secretary in Whitehall. The political masters might come and go, but the government machine would remain unionist. All such safeguards are failing in Scotland, to the bewilderment of Westminster. It was supposed to be impossible for the SNP to command an overall majority in Holyrood, thanks to the proportional representation system; unthinkable that Scottish Labour and the Scottish Tories would collapse in the way both have done.

Yet even Alex Salmond must be taken aback by arguably the least expected development: that Scotland's most senior civil servant, an Englishman, would apparently reinvent himself as a separatist. The seemingly partisan conduct of Sir Peter Housden, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Executive, is becoming a scandal -- and one with profound implications for British politics. Lord Forsyth, the last Tory Scottish Secretary, raised this in parliament two months ago, asking why the head of the Scottish Civil Service could advise officials to go to see a play depicting an English army of occupation in 11th-century Scotland on the grounds that it 'does genuinely speak to our present condition as a nation'.

There is no Britain.

December 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


How Doctors Die: It's Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be (Ken Murray, 11/30/11, Zocalo Public Square)

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. He had a surgeon explore the area, and the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. This surgeon was one of the best in the country. He had even invented a new procedure for this exact cancer that could triple a patient's five-year-survival odds--from 5 percent to 15 percent--albeit with a poor quality of life. Charlie was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice, and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with family and feeling as good as possible. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation, or surgical treatment. Medicare didn't spend much on him.

It's not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don't die like the rest of us. What's unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

Of course, doctors don't want to die; they want to live. But they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And they know enough about death to know what all people fear most: dying in pain, and dying alone. They've talked about this with their families. They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen--that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that's what happens if CPR is done right).

Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call "futile care" being performed on people. That's when doctors bring the cutting edge of technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly, "Promise me if you find me like this that you'll kill me." They mean it. Some medical personnel wear medallions stamped "NO CODE" to tell physicians not to perform CPR on them. I have even seen it as a tattoo.

To administer medical care that makes people suffer is anguishing. Physicians are trained to gather information without revealing any of their own feelings, but in private, among fellow doctors, they'll vent. "How can anyone do that to their family members?" they'll ask. I suspect it's one reason physicians have higher rates of alcohol abuse and depression than professionals in most other fields. I know it's one reason I stopped participating in hospital care for the last 10 years of my practice.

How has it come to this--that doctors administer so much care that they wouldn't want for themselves? The simple, or not-so-simple, answer is this: patients, doctors, and the system. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


What Really Happened Aboard Air France 447: Two years after the Airbus 330 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, Air France 447's flight-data recorders finally turned up. The revelations from the pilot transcript paint a surprising picture of chaos in the cockpit, and confusion between the pilots that led to the crash. (Jeff Wise, 12/06/11, Popular Mechanics)

We now understand that, indeed, AF447 passed into clouds associated with a large system of thunderstorms, its speed sensors became iced over, and the autopilot disengaged. In the ensuing confusion, the pilots lost control of the airplane because they reacted incorrectly to the loss of instrumentation and then seemed unable to comprehend the nature of the problems they had caused. Neither weather nor malfunction doomed AF447, nor a complex chain of error, but a simple but persistent mistake on the part of one of the pilots.

Human judgments, of course, are never made in a vacuum. Pilots are part of a complex system that can either increase or reduce the probability that they will make a mistake. After this accident, the million-dollar question is whether training, instrumentation, and cockpit procedures can be modified all around the world so that no one will ever make this mistake again--or whether the inclusion of the human element will always entail the possibility of a catastrophic outcome. After all, the men who crashed AF447 were three highly trained pilots flying for one of the most prestigious fleets in the world. If they could fly a perfectly good plane into the ocean, then what airline could plausibly say, "Our pilots would never do that"? 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Welcome to the Age of Overparenting: How I learned to let my kids be kids. (Katherine Ozment, Boston Magazine)

IN THE ARLINGTON middle school cafeteria, Michael Thompson asks if anyone wants to share their sweetest memory from childhood. I raise my hand and tell the group how, when I was eight, my friends and I discovered a frozen pond way back in the woods. We raced home to get our ice skates and laced them up in the hollowed-out trunk of a towering tree. And then, accompanied only by the sounds of our voices, laughter, and the scratching of our blades, we skimmed the ice, unsupervised, for hours.

"Why," Thompson asks me in front of all the parents, "is that memory so sweet?"

Without thinking, I say, "Because my parents didn't know where I was."

"Your parents didn't know where you were. So that experience was wholly your own," he says. Then: "Would you let your own children do that?"

"I don't even let my kids out of the house," I blurt.

Everyone laughs, including me. (I do let them out of the house, by the way.) It's a funny line, but the truth is our kids have but a shred of the freedom we enjoyed growing up. They have other things, of course. For example, my children know how to play team sports. They've gone to science camp and studied still lifes at the MFA. They compost and take educational family vacations to Washington, DC. At night, the older two like to laze about and ask my husband and me things like who the first person was and what happens when you die. We're always there with some answer.

But what calling up my sweetest memory made me realize is that while today's middle- and upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us. For them, ice skating takes the form of 30-minute lessons at a city rink. Playing with friends involves checking calendars and pre-set finish times. Nearly everything they do is orchestrated, if not by their parents, then by some other adult -- a teacher, camp counselor, or coach. But their experiences aren't very rich in the messier way -- in those moments of unfettered abandon when part of the thrill is the risk of harm, hurt feelings, or struggle. In our attempt to manage and support every moment of our children's lives, they become something that belongs to us, not them.

Nine years into this parenting gig, I've begun to see that maybe our generation doesn't have it all right and our own parents didn't have it all wrong. Maybe it's just time for some middle ground. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Author and Historian Questions Whether "Fixing the Sky" Can Address Climate Change (AAAS, 10/22/10)
Amid concerns about global climate change, many scientists now support serious research on manipulating the climate by methods such as pumping sunlight-reflecting particles into the atmosphere. But proposed technological "fixes" for the sky are not new, according to historian James Rodger Fleming of Colby College.

For well over a century, scientists, military officials, and charlatans have tinkered with schemes to control weather and climate, Fleming told a AAAS audience, and the checkered history of such pursuits offers a cautionary tale to those who back what is now being called "geoengineering." [...]

Fleming said today's proponents of geoengineering for climate control need to look beyond the technical details of proposals. He argues, as he put it in his book, for "the relevance of history, the foolishness of quick fixes, and the need to follow a 'middle course' of expedited moderation in aerial matters, seeking neither to control the sky nor to diminish the importance of the environmental problems we face."

Fleming called his book his "first attempt at a tragic-comedy," an account of both humorous and threatening efforts to control the environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Many Workers in Public Sector Retiring Sooner (MONICA DAVEY, 12/05/11, NY Times)

As states and cities struggle to resolve paralyzing budget shortfalls by sending workers on unpaid furloughs, freezing salaries and extracting larger contributions for health benefits and pensions, a growing number of public-sector workers are finding fewer reasons to stay.

The numbers of retirees are way up in Wisconsin, where more applications to retire have been filed this year than ever before. Workers in California's largest public employee pension system have retired at a steadily increasing rate over the last five fiscal years. In New Jersey, thousands more teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public workers filed retirement papers during the past two years than in the previous two years. [...]

In some places, the rise in retirement has brought welcome and needed financial news. Kansas announced last month that it would save $34.5 million over two years because more than 1,000 workers had agreed to accept cash and health insurance incentives to leave. State officials said they had yet to determine which of the positions of departing workers they considered critical enough to refill. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


M83 Emerges With a Sound All Its Own (JIM FUSILLI, 12/05/11, WSJ)

Mr. Gonzalez formed M83 a decade ago in his native France with his former music partner, Nicolas Fromageau. It found its groove on its third album, "Before the Dawn Heals Us," in which Mr. Gonzalez, by then working solo with some hired help, had the resources to expand his sonic palette.

"The first two albums were created in a bedroom," he recalled. "There was no budget; everything was homemade." Though Pitchfork, the Chicago-based music website, praised M83's second album, "Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts," for Mr. Gonzalez it is "Before the Dawn Heals Us" that marks the start of his international career. "I expected nothing from my music, but now I could see it going beyond France and Europe. It was scary but exciting." [...]

Back home in Antibes, Mr. Gonzalez began to clamor for change. "It was almost like a midlife crisis. My life was almost too easy in France. I moved away from my family and friends. I wanted to meet new people."

Relocating to Los Angeles, he set up shop in Hollywood to challenge himself in a new creative environment. "I was craving to do something ambitious and big and something I'd remember all my life. The move from Europe to America made me realize I was ready.

"I'm not scared to say I'm ambitious. I'm scared of waking up in 20 years and having regrets. I want my music to be listened to by the entire planet."

From its opening moments, "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" announces itself as something more than an of-the-moment rock album: Taken as an ad-hoc suite, the first six tracks are as exciting and flawless a stretch of rock and pop as you'll find. A five-minute introduction serves as an overture, as strings, brass and synth sounds familiar to dance-music fans zoom under whispers by Nika Danilova of Zola Jesus--a counterpoint to Mr. Gonzalez's layered vocal that calls to mind '80s rock anthems. "Wait" is a brooding Roger Waters-like ballad that emerges out of a synth-and-piano soundscape. Big grand numbers abound, as do dabs of unexpected instrumental colors such as trumpet and saxophone solos. Moody instruments bridge the vocal tracks. Joey Waronker and Loic Maurin provide the always bold, occasionally frantic drumming. Mr. Gonzalez plays synths and shares guitar duties with Justin Meldal-Johnsen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Slow Dance: Obama's Romance with the CIA: How the president learned to stop worrying and love hard power--as long as it's covert. The future of American-style war. (Michael Hirsh, May 15, 2011, National Journal)

To many career spooks, the flowering of the Obama-Panetta partnership has been a revelation. "Let's be candid," the senior administration official said. "Some people had arched eyebrows" at the beginning, especially when Obama named the 72-year-old Panetta, a fairly liberal Democrat who, along with Obama, had criticized the agency's interrogation practices and opposed the surge in Iraq. But Panetta "embraced the agency's mission, and the president recognized very early on the capabilities that the CIA had to bring to bear."

Some people may still be wondering: Is this really the president we elected? Obama, after all, was supposed to be the inspiring, transformational figure who would restore America's image as a benign superpower. What is being transformed, instead, is our image of Obama. As it turns out, he is no liberal weenie abroad, no typical Democrat with a passion for human rights and international law. In recent months, Obama has also disappointed many of his fans with his tepid support of Arab democracy protesters. His passions appear to lie elsewhere. What Obama seems enthusiastic about is the use of hard power--lethal force. And the more precise and deadly, the better.

As long as it's done covertly. And that's the key.

We had forewarnings of this. During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama pledged to go after al-Qaida more aggressively than President Bush had; as far back as the summer of 2007, Obama had stirred controversy by saying he would even send troops into Pakistan if he had to. The bin Laden mission was only the most dramatic illustration yet of a growing, although sub rosa, trend. Obama has narrowed his strategic focus on terrorism, zeroing in on the most-dangerous terrorists who can't be rehabilitated, namely Qaida fighters; at the same time, he has dramatically multiplied the resources that his administration is devoting to the mission.

Consider: Although the administration does not publicly acknowledge the existence of the program, the number of Predator drone strikes on targets in Pakistan and elsewhere has more than tripled during Obama's presidency--and he is now making drones available to NATO in Libya. The U.S. has increased its intelligence and special-operations forces in Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. But even that is only a small part of the story. Under Panetta, the CIA has conducted "the most aggressive counterterror ops in the agency's history," according to the senior administration official. He has knocked off not only bin Laden but also a key operative in Somalia--Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, the leader of al-Qaida's affiliate in East Africa--using special-operations forces. The agency has gotten a long list of other terrorists with Predators (although the government has acknowledged, reluctantly, that the drone strikes have killed many innocents along with thugs and bandits). Obama also secretly authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an influential radical cleric--and an American citizen--thought to be living somewhere in Yemen; the president apparently came close to getting Awlaki in the same week he got bin Laden.

Even some Republicans are impressed. "They have been very aggressive," Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told National Journal. "They have expanded the programs that worked" under the Bush administration. Bush himself raised the role of the CIA and special ops in 2008, when he loosened the rules of engagement in Pakistan to allow Predators to fly their deadly missions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Lone Star (Sarah Goldstein, December 2011, GQ)

Shortly after this year's Emmys, a male friend e-mailed me to say that when the camera panned on Timothy Olyphant, turned out in a Louis Vuitton peak-lapel tux, "everyone ovulated--including the dudes." Mention his name to the men in my office and it's met with sheepish grins and distinctly unmanly gushiness. "Could I love him more?" "He's just so cool." Even Graham Yost, the creator of FX's Justified--the Elmore Leonard-inspired Kentucky crime drama in which Olyphant stars as debonair, shit-kicking U.S. marshal Raylan Givens--will admit to a man crush. "Tim," he says, "is the whole package." Olyphant, scratchy voiced and quick to laugh, doesn't let it go to his head: "I have a crush on Raylan, too!"

The actor's elegant way with a laconic antihero was established back in 2004, when he played the tortured, mustachioed sheriff Seth Bullock on HBO's Deadwood. As modern-day lawman Givens, Olyphant brings the same ramrod menace, but cut with a whole lot of smooth southern charm--the type of guy who buys you a drink before he plugs you with a bullet. No wonder dudes swoon. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Swedish euroscepticism at record high: poll (The Local, 6 Dec 11)

Close to nine out of ten Swedes are keen to remain outside the eurozone and retain the krona, according to a new poll published on Tuesday in the wake of renewed problems afflicting the European single currency.

A total of 87.6 percent of the 1,000 people questioned said they wanted to keep the krona while only 9.7 percent wanted to adopt the euro and 2.7 percent were undecided, the Skop polling institute said.

"Swedish confidence in the euro has never been as low as in Skop's November survey" conducted from October 28 to November 20, the institute said.

December 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Fox accuses 'The Muppets' of brainwashing kids against the rich (Sharon Waxman, 12/05/11, MSN)

On Fox Business Channel anchor Eric Bolling showed a clip of the new Disney movie and suggested - well, no he said outright - that the story was aimed at planting the seeds of class warfare among our precious children.

That's because the Muppet villain is an oil baron called Tex Richman.

Tell us on Facebook: What do you think? Does the movie 'brainwash' kids?

"What's actually going on there? Is liberal Hollywood using class warfare to brainwash our kids?" he asked, quite reasonably. that it is exactly the same as the Colbert Report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM


That Wish for a BB Gun, Set to Song and Dance (ERIK PIEPENBURG, 12/05/11, NY Times)

The world of holiday movie lovers used to be divided into "It's a Wonderful Life" people and "Miracle on 34th Street" people. But for the past few decades the nostalgic comedy "A Christmas Story" has become a holiday film fix for a group of obsessive fans.

Based on the 1966 book "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" by the humorist Jean Shepherd, "A Christmas Story" has been embraced by fans for its tale of a late-Depression-era Christmas and a boy named Ralphie with a wish for a BB gun. Years of repeated reruns on television since its 1983 release have given it pop-culture cachet. The house in Cleveland where parts of the film were shot is now a museum. There are "Christmas Story" underpants and ties. A 2000 play version continues to make the regional theater rounds.

Now "A Christmas Story" has been turned into an almost $5 million musical. It's currently on a five-city tour, with hopes to build a holiday franchise in whatever location it plays.

Did your parents ever take you to the Radio City Christmas Show?  They'd run a movie and then have a nativity pagaent and the Rockettes.  A Christmas Story musical would be a natural.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Chapman University predicts Obama election loss (Martin Wisckol, 12/06/11, OC Register)

Chapman's model, which takes into account party but not the candidates, is based on three variables:

    Approval rating of the incumbent party's sitting president on year prior to the election.
    Percentage change in real GDP in the election year.
    Percentage change in employment in the election year.

Chapman predicts 2.3 percent GDP growth next year and 1.1 percent job growth.

All that adds up to Obama losing by 8.1 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Sidwell Friends's surprising Pearl Harbor Day menu (The Reliable Source, 12/06/11, Washington Post)

A lunch that will live in infamy? That's what at least one parent at elite Sidwell Friends (yes, Sasha and Malia's school!) wondered upon seeing what the school cafeteria listed as its "Pearl Harbor Day" menu Wednesday: A heavily Japanese-inspired lineup, including teriyaki chicken and edamame (as well as more generically Asian delicacies like tofu, fried rice, fortune cookies and "oriental noodle salad").

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Some Democratic strategists worry about Gingrich's potential appeal (Peter Wallsten and Anne E. Kornblut, 12/04/11, Washington Post)

Perhaps most significantly, Gingrich has an extensive Hispanic outreach organization, which he has been building for years. Unlike anything in the Romney playbook, that network could give Gingrich a head start slicing into Obama's base in key states in the Mountain West, where Hispanics are a fast-growing swing voting bloc. Polls show Hispanic voters, two-thirds of whom backed Obama in 2008, still favor the president -- but GOP strategists believe that winning 40 percent of that vote could disrupt Obama's electoral college strategy by putting Colorado, Arizona and Nevada in the Republican column.

Gingrich is distributing a weekly Spanish-language newsletter to Hispanic voters (the subject line is "Newt con nosotros," or "Newt with us"), holding a monthly call with community leaders, even studying Spanish and using it in appearances on Univision, the Spanish-language network.

As Romney has run hard to the right on immigration, running the risk of alienating Hispanic voters, Gingrich has pursued a more centrist course. He has expressed support for legalizing some immigrants with deep ties to the United States, a position that Romney has derided as "amnesty."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Ala. considers inmates to replace immigrant labor (JAY REEVES, 12/05/11, AP)

The nursery and landscape industry will need as many as 4,000 workers in southern counties early in 2012 to get ready for the growing season, he said, and forestry and farming will require still more laborers. Unable to find legal residents to fill all the employment gaps, Hall said the Agriculture Department is consulting with the Department of Corrections to determine whether prisoners could do some of the work.

"We're trying to get ahead of the curve and see if we can be of assistance to other parts of Alabama, too," Hall said Monday, a day before the agency held a meeting Tuesday afternoon with farmers and agriculture industry officials in Mobile.

Prison spokesman Brian Corbett said the state has about 2,000 work-release prisoners who could be eligible to perform such work, and the department is "always happy to promote our ... program to employers as an alternative labor situation." Work-release inmates aren't the solution to labor shortages that may be linked to the law, however, according to Corbett.

"Many, if not most, of those 2,000 are already employed," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Were The Good Old Days Really That Good? (Richard Barrington, 12/06/11, Forbes)

Here are seven factors that link today with the early 1980s:

High unemployment. Troubled by today's 9.1 percent inflation rate? In 1982, the U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 10.8 percent, and between 1982 and 1983 it topped 10 percent for 10 consecutive months. As bad as the recent job market has been, unemployment peaked at 10.1 percent, and only stayed above 10 percent for one month.

Double-dip recession. People today are concerned about the possibility of a double-dip recession, but in the early 1980s the U.S. actually experienced one. A recession ended in July of 1980, only to be followed by a much longer one beginning a year later. As a result, the US economy spent 22 of the first 35 months of the 1980s in recession.

Troublesome interest rates. Here is a clear contrast: interest rates in the early 1980s were sky high, whereas now they are rock bottom. Six-month CD rates hit their all-time high of 17.98 percent in August of 1981; they bottomed out at 0.29 percent in January of 2010, and have now spent more than two years under 1 percent. Double-digit interest rates may sound good to people with CDs, savings, and money market accounts, but the flip side of those high bank rates is that it made mortgages much more expensive. Mortgage rates peaked at 18.45 percent in October of 1981; now, they've spent more than a year under 5 percent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 PM


Vermont Rebounding Quickly From Hurricane Irene (JOHN SCHWARTZ, 12/05/11, NY Times)

[W]hat is truly impressive about the work here is not the amount of damage, or even the size of the big boy toys involved in the repair. Instead, it is that 107 is the last stretch of state road that Vermont has not finished repairing. In the three months since Hurricane Irene, the state repaired and reopened some 500 miles of damaged road, replaced a dozen bridges with temporary structures and repaired about 200 altogether.

Vermont's success in repairing roads while keeping the state open for tourism is a story of bold action and high-tech innovation. The state closed many damaged highways to speed repairs and it teamed with Google to create frequently updated maps_ showing which routes were open. Vermont also worked in cooperation with other states, legions of contractors and local citizens.

While many Americans have come to wonder whether the nation has lost the ability to fix its ailing infrastructure or do big things, "they haven't been to Vermont," said Megan Smith, the state's commissioner of tourism and marketing.

State roads, which are the routes used most by tourists, are ready for the economically crucial winter skiing season. But Vermont had many of those roads open in time for many of the fall foliage visitors, who pump $332 million into the state's economy each year, largely through small businesses like bed and breakfasts, gift shops and syrup stands. Within a month of the storm, 84 of the 118 closed sections of state roads were reopened, and 28 of the 34 state highway bridges that had been closed were reopened. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Echinacea ineffective against colds -- does anything really work? (Deborah Kotz, December 20, 2010, Boston Globe)

Surely, though, there's something we can do to make our colds go away faster or, better yet, prevent them altogether?

"The short answer is no," says Jeffrey Linder, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who treats a lot of colds and flu this time of year. Certain prescription medicines can help relieve severe symptoms, though there's little evidence, Linder says, that over-the-counter cough medicine does any good. He sometimes prescribes albuterol, an asthma medicine, to open clogged airways that come with lung congestion. And he'll prescribe a cough syrup with codeine to help quiet coughs at night. Nasal decongestants can also be helpful, but Linder doesn't recommend using them beyond three days to avoid becoming dependent on them.

Still, he's not ready to back-away from commonsense lifestyle measures when it comes to preventing colds.

    Sleep, at least 8 hours. Or however long your body needs. "Listen to you body," Linder says. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and allow your body to wake up on its own. Research suggests that those who don't get enough sleep are more likely to be infected with colds when exposed to viruses.

    Exercise. Exercise has an immune-boosting effect, but don't overdo it to the point of exhaustion. That could overstress your body and actually suppress your immune system.

    Eat right. "Do what your mother told you," he says. "Eat a balanced diet, a lot of fruits and vegetables, not too much saturated fat." This should, in theory, keep your immune system in full-functioning mode, better able to fend off viral invasions.

    Wash hands frequently. This should help keep you from transferring cold viruses that you pick up from surfaces to your eyes, nose, and mouth, where they'll enter your body.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

THE 1%:

Ready for Their Close-Up: The votes are in, and Islamist parties are ascendant throughout the Arab world. But can they rule? (JAMES TRAUB | DECEMBER 2, 2011, Foreign Policy)

The big decision for the Brotherhood will be who to align with. The real surprise of the ballot so far is that the hard-liner Salafis have taken about a quarter of the vote, far outpacing both the traditional liberals who have long operated in the shadows of the military state and the more radical forces associated with Tahrir Square. The Brotherhood is a worldly force accustomed to political maneuver and compromise; the Salafis are genuine theocrats. The Salafis would probably demand clauses in the constitution limiting the rights of women or non-Muslims and would try to legislate morality, which Brotherhood parliamentarians have avoided seeking to do in the past. A Brotherhood-Salafi alliance would draw a line right through Egyptian society and might well turn Tahrir Square into a cockpit of secular-Islamist confrontation.

Will the Brotherhood turn that way? The New York Times' account of the electoral outcome largely accepted that view. And it's true that the Islamists can now dispense with liberal forces if they want to. On the other hand, Saad el-Katatni, the party secretary general, has explicitly rejected an alliance with Al Nour, the main Salafi group. Marina Ottaway, an Egypt expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out that during the campaign season, the Freedom and Justice Party tried to build an alliance with secular forces -- which ultimately formed a compact of their own -- and refused to join an Islamist alliance. "If I had to take a bet about that right now," Ottaway says, "I would bet they would form an alliance with the more secular parties and the more moderate elements."

Joshua Stacher, an academic at Kent State University who has studied the inner workings of the Brothers, views them less as an Islamic body than as a giant jobs program. Stacher doesn't think the Brotherhood will provoke a civil war with secular forces, but he also doesn't think they will stand up to the generals who have replaced President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood is no longer an opposition party, Stacher notes: "They're part of the political elite." 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


REVIEW: of Marcus Daniel. Scandal and Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy (Joseph M. Adelman, 10/03/11, H-Net)

Observers of contemporary journalism will readily note that character-based politics are as prevalent in the United States as jeremiads bemoaning the sorry state of such personalized political discourse. We should be talking about the issues, commentators insist, rather than about the "distractions" of politicians' personal lives. Marcus Daniel, a professor of history at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, has seen this story before in his work on the political journalism of the early American Republic, and challenges the idea that these laments--and the personalized politics they decry--are unique to the modern media climate.

In Scandal & Civility, Daniel aims to show how what he calls the "politics of character" played a crucial role in the formation of political discourse in the first decade of the U.S. government under the Constitution. In so doing, he hopes to enlighten discussions of contemporary politics that promote a golden age narrative, part of the "Founders Chic" that David Waldstreicher identified nearly ten years ago, in which the Founding Fathers, uniquely in American history, debated issues civilly and respectfully with a moral code superior to that of our own time. Not so fast, argues Daniel: "political life in the postrevolutionary United States," he writes, "was tempestuous, fiercely partisan, and highly personal" (p. 5). As evidence, Daniel suggests that we look to those who produced and disseminated political news: the printers and editors of U.S. newspapers.

The biggest difference is that they took more joy in their political savagery.  The attempt to remove personal attacks from politics also, necessarily, removes the humor.

Left unsaid is that our politics is more civil precisely because we have achieved such broad consensus on the issues.  The stakes of the fight are too low for much genuine bitterness to creep in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Clinton warns of Israel's eroding democratic values: The secretary of state explains that she is astonished by the legislative initiatives in favor of restricting left-wing NGOs, as well as by the exclusion of women from public spaces and other phenomena. (Barak Ravid, 12/05/11, Ha'aretz)

If up to now differences between Washington and Jerusalem centered on the peace process or the future of the settlements, it appears that the U.S. government is now worried about whether democratic values are shared by the two states. [...]

Clinton claimed that she really cannot understand what is going on in Israel. She said that it's hard for her to grasp how proposals to restrict non-governmental organizations can find their way to the Knesset. In a period when the U.S. is working hard with countries around the world to strengthen their civil sector organizations and structures, Israel appears to be moving in the opposite direction, she suggested. Clinton related that she had read a day before in The Washington Post an article by Ruth Marcus, called "In Israel, Women's Rights Come Under Siege," which detailed examples of the exclusion or boycotting of women, including incidents where IDF religious soldiers have boycotted events in which women sang, and the segregation of women on some bus routes, in contravention of Supreme Court decisions.

The secretary of state related that when she read this report she was reminded of Rosa Parks, the African-American activist who in 1955 refused to yield her seat on a bus to a white man. The boycott of women singing at IDF events reminds her of extremist regimes.

That seems more suited to Iran than Israel, Clinton opined. She said that she is at a loss to understand how such processes can occur in Israel. She told her listeners that Israel has little idea how badly such dynamics appear around the world.

Nevermind the anti-miscegenation push...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Interpreting the Establishment Clause (without an Agenda) (Russell Nieli, December 5, 2011, Public Discourse)

Drakeman rejects the conclusions of all three interpretations, at least insofar as they claim to explicate the original meaning or intent of the Establishment Clause. The strict separationists, Drakeman says, have tried to read the clause as the result of Madison's and Jefferson's efforts to determine the proper church-state relationship for their home state of Virginia under the Articles of Confederation. But their views, Drakeman argues, hardly can be equated with those of the nation as a whole, of the majority of the representatives and senators who passed the first ten amendments, or of the majority of state legislators who voted to ratify the Bill of Rights. Moreover, whatever was considered the proper course for their home state of Virginia, neither Jefferson nor Madison, Drakeman shows, believed that the national government should dictate to the states their proper manner of church-state relationship.

Against non-preferentialism Drakeman's critique is a bit more restrained. It's not that non-preferentialists read into the Establishment Clause what clearly isn't there, or that they take a local state battle to be paradigmatic for a non-existent national dispute, but that they fail to realize that the term "establishment of religion" meant different things to different people and had a wider range of meanings across the American public spectrum than simply an established state church such as the Anglican Church in England.

Against the jurisdictionalists Drakeman offers a partial concession. It is undoubtedly true, he says, that those who passed and ratified the Bill of Rights in the 1789-1791 period would have understood the no-national-religion principle embodied in the First Amendment to be part of the overall constitutional structure of federalism whereby states would be free to set their own policies regarding church-state relationships even if the national government were more restricted in this area. Drakeman calls this "plain vanilla federalism." He distinguishes this from the "federalism-enhancing federalism" of the jurisdictionalists who see a specific intent on the part of supporters of the Establishment Clause in states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts (which had state establishments) to protect their state establishments from outside national interference. The clause is seen by the jurisdictionalists as deliberately intended to create an extra layer of federalism protection to secure existing state religious establishments against national encroachment.

The major weakness with the jurisdictionalist interpretation, Drakeman says, is that there is no evidence for it. No one in the 1790s thought the national government would interfere with state church-state relationships, he says, so it is not surprising that no one known to us today ever expressed support for the Establishment Clause in the way the jurisdictionalists or federalism-enhancing interpreters of the clause assert.

Drakeman's own interpretation of the clause is minimalist:

    While some aspects of the evidence can be employed to support each of the various conventional interpretations [of the Establishment Clause], the only reading of the clause that is persuasively supported by all of the relevant data shows that its original meaning was to forbid the establishment of a single national religion. It is unclear whether such prohibitions only applied to an entity like the Church of England or whether more ecumenical forms of governmental financial aid might also have been included within the original meaning of the phrase "an establishment of religion." On this latter point, the record is (and probably always will be) too murky to tell for sure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


The Internet: Triumph of human evolution (Thomas Rogers, 12/04/11, Salon)

It may seem strange to think of the Web as part of the process of natural selection, but Raymond Neubauer, a professor at the University of Texas, doesn't think so. In his far-reaching new book, "Evolution and the Emergent Self," he argues that technology should be seen as part of our planet's grand evolutionary narrative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Possible Forging of Modern Art Is Investigated (PATRICIA COHEN, 12/02/11, NY Times)

Federal authorities are investigating whether a parade of paintings and drawings, sold for years by some of New York's most elite art dealers as the work of Modernist masters like Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, actually consists of expert forgeries, according to people who have been interviewed or briefed by the investigators.

Most of the works, which have sold individually for as much as $17 million, came to market though a little-known art dealer from Long Island, Glafira Rosales, who said she had what every gallery dreams of: exclusive access to a mystery collector's cache of undiscovered work by some of the postwar world's great talents, including Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn. [...]

The Knoedler gallery, which abruptly closed Wednesday after 165 years in business, has not been implicated in the investigation. But on Friday a London collector, Pierre Lagrange, who bought one of the works, "Untitled 1950" by Pollock, for $17 million in 2007, sued the gallery and Ms. Freedman, contending that it is a forgery. His forensic analysis found that two paints in the work had not been invented until after Pollock's death, the suit said. wasn't art to begin with.

December 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 PM


Watch the full video at Kind of the opposite of the Tea Party and the Occupation.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Bluesman Hubert Sumlin, guitarist for Howlin' Wolf, dies at 80 (DAVE HOEKSTRA, December 4, 2011, Chicago Sun-Times)
Born in Greenwood, Miss., Mr. Sumlin was part of the great blues migration to Chicago. He and Burnett arrived in Chicago in 1953. Mr. Sumlin had been playing with James Cotton in West Memphis, and Burnett hired him in Chicago.

"We were playing Silvio's [at Lake and Oakley], and he said, 'You go home when you find out you've got my courage, then you can come back and play my songs,' " Mr. Sumlin told me in a 1988 interview from his South Side home. "Man, I got home and cried all night. I slept with my guitar by my head. Then about 4 o'clock in the morning something said, 'Hey man, why don't you put the [guitar] picks down. You ain't got no business using picks!' "

At that moment, Mr. Sumliln said, he discovered his own style, which evolved into an individualistic mix of African syncopation and itemized structure that forced the notes to stand alone. Clapton once called Mr. Sumlin's style "just the weirdest."

Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter began playing with Mr. Sumlin in 1985. Wolf and Paul Butterfield drummer Sam Lay had hired Specter to join him and Mr. Sumlin on a three-week tour of Canada. Specter was 22 years old.

"Hubert was just the sweetest guy and very encouraging and supportive of younger players," Specter said on Sunday. "I wouldn't use 'tough' as an adjective for his playing. He had a totally unique sound. When you listen to his famous solos on [Wolf's] 'Hidden Charms' or '300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy' [later a hit for Chicago's Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows], there is so much style to it. A lot of it had to do with his touch and playing with his fingers. There are lot of guitar players who played with their fingers and had a more aggressive approach, like Albert Collins. Your sound and your tone is a reflection of your personality.

"And Hubert had larger-than-life charm and devilishness."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Harnessing desert sun to power Europe (Aidan Lewis, 12/04/11, BBC News)

It is a beguiling idea - harvest sunshine, and a little wind, from the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and use it to produce clean power for the region and for Europe.

Desertec, a group based in Germany with heavyweight commercial backers including Siemens and Deutsche Bank, says the scheme would also bring the regions around the Mediterranean closer together, while providing jobs and stability for the countries in the south.

It has chosen Morocco, which is embarking on its own ambitious solar programme, for its first "reference" project - a plant meant to show that its grand vision is feasible.

Desertec expects to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Stem Cell Therapy Poised to Come in From the Cold (Toni Clarke and Deena Beasley | December 5, 2011, Reuters)

A rogue surgeon injects stem cells from a fetus into a sick man's brain. The cells morph and form body parts. When the man dies, the pathologist finds cartilage, skin and bone clumped in his brain.

The scene is not from a horror movie; it happened to Max Truex, a former Olympic runner who suffered from Parkinson's disease. The case sent a chill through the scientific community when it came to light 15 years ago and typifies some of the hurdles researchers have faced while trying to bring stem cell therapies to the market.

Now, it appears, their efforts are closer than ever to paying off.

Dozens of adult stem cell treatments are moving through clinical trials and showing early success, raising hopes that some could reach the market within five years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


After Herman Cain, the GOP has a credibility crisis with black voters (Charlton McIlwain, December 5, 2011, CS Monitor)

Herman Cain's exit from the Republican presidential stage resulted from a crisis in character. But long after Mr. Cain's name fades from public view, the Republican Party will continue to face a crisis of confidence among black American voters - despite Cain's brief popularity as a candidate.

...why would the GOP invest any time and effort in chasing the black vote, particularly when having the Democrats be seen by Latinos as the black party would be beneficial?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Has the Euro Crisis Killed Off Social Democracy For Good? (Jonathan Blitzer, December 3, 2011, New Republic)

The sovereign debt crisis has done more than batter incumbent socialists out of office; it may well have stripped the social democratic movement of its soul in the crisis zone.

Even before the latest crisis hit, it was widely presaged that social democracy was on the wane in Europe. The continent's working class, fragmented under the pressures of globalization, had already been moving toward alternative parties for a number of years. But the current financial crisis has amplified those trends. The mood is uniformly grim among the continent's center-left set.

That's especially the case in the European periphery, where the debt problems are greatest. For left-leaning politicians in countries hurtling toward the precipice of insolvency, there is frightfully little room to alleviate mounting unemployment and anemic growth. "The crisis has shown what was probably true for some time, that these governments have limited scope to determine their own economic policy," Says Jonathan White, of the London School of Economics.

With bond markets aflutter and Brussels demanding massive spending cuts, incumbent governments have had little choice but to embark on toxically unpopular austerity. In March, Portuguese Socialist José Sócrates was forced to resign when an austerity package was rejected by Parliament. The Greek Prime Minister's exit, in November, was as precipitous as Zapatero's was agonizingly protracted. In the meantime, it's not taken long for the labor party in Ireland to come under fire for reneging on its campaign promise to put national interests first in its now infamous formulation: "Labor's way or Frankfurt's way." And the arrival of technocrats in Italy after the fall of the government of Silvio Berlusconi only underscores how incompatible austerity is with electoral survival: the country's center-left never even attempted to take the reins of power.

It is clearly not a sustainable situation for Social Democrats. They have lost credibility with the electorate not only because they've been virtually impotent in stimulating growth, but also, worse, because austerity has appeared to make them go against their principles. The traditional linchpins of the social democratic agenda--defense of the welfare state, a Keynesian economic vision, responsiveness to a pluralistic electorate--are in tatters. For the Spanish, Portuguese, and Greek Socialists who were forced to make cuts in their respective countries, austerity is their legacy.

Their conservative rivals, by contrast, now have the pretext they've been waiting for to cut government spending and privatize swaths of the education and health sectors.

Not quite.  What the Left--in these countries, but less so in the Anglosphere and Scandinavia--is failing to reckon with is that parties of the Right have evolved the same soul, one dedicated to the welfare state.  The political argument is just over how to provide that welfare, via socialist means or capitalist.  Socialism was tried and found wanting, but the traditional Left distrusts capitalism too much to adopt its mechanisms with gusto.  Even the successes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Helen Clark and the like fail to sway them.  One key difference here may be that we never experienced bloodshed between Left and Right, the way continental Europe did, so we don't harbor the same historical enmities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The Revolutionary Shias: a review of Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest by Hamid Dabashi (Malise Ruthven, 12/22/11, NY Review of Books)

In the Sunni tradition the 'ulama, or legal scholars, came to act as a rabbinical class charged with the task of interpreting the Koran and the ethical teachings derived from the Prophet's exemplary conduct as recorded in hadith reports or "traditions." The eventual division of the mainstream Sunni tradition into four main schools of law allowed for considerable variations in interpreting these canonical texts. The mystical or "otherworldly" aspects of the Prophet's legacy became the province of the Sufi or mystical orders that grew up around the myriads of "saints" or holy men.

The Shias, by contrast, institutionalized the Prophet's charisma by investing their imams with special sources of esoteric knowledge to which they, through their religious leaders, had exclusive access. Hence Shiism, arguably, presents a more unified approach to Islam than Sunnism, though one that (like Protestantism) is opposed to the mainstream. During Islam's formative era most of the holy and sinless Shiite imams in the line of Muhammad were deemed to have been martyrs or victims of the usurping Sunni caliphs. After the twelfth imam in the direct line of Muhammad finally "disappeared" in 940, Shiite authority came to be exercised by a formidable clerical establishment--comparable to the Catholic priesthood. These religious specialists were assumed to be in possession of the esoteric knowledge and interpretive skills necessary for the community's guidance. The parallels with Christianity are striking. For the people called Ithnasharis, or Twelvers (who comprise the majority of the Shia), the disappeared or "Hidden Imam" is a messianic figure who will return (like the resurrected Jesus) to bring peace and justice to a world torn by strife. [...]

Popular expectations surrounding the Hidden Imam and his return are central to this struggle. Khamenei, who represents a part of the clerical "old guard" that took power after the revolution, has gone so far as to suggest changing Iran to a parliamentary system, without an elected president--a move that former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has stated would "be contrary to the Constitution and would weaken the people's power of choice." Ahmadinejad has responded by giving the debate an eschatological twist, stating that ordinary Muslims do not need the intercession of clerics to contact the Hidden Imam. For Ahmadinejad, populist expectations surrounding an imminent return (an attitude described as "deviant" by conservative clerics) serves to boost his presidential ambitions.

At the heart of this debate lies the problem of legitimacy, based, as Dabashi sees it, in a long tradition in which the revolutionary impulses born out of historical dispossession of the right to succeed Muhammad compete with compulsive anxieties about proper social behavior:

    The more volatile, unstable, and impulsive the charismatic outbursts of revolutionary movements in Shi'ism have been throughout its medieval and modern history, because of its traumatic origin, the more precise the exactitude of the Shi'i law has sought to regulate, to the minutest details, the affairs of Shi'i believers--from their rituals of bodily purity to the dramaturgical particulars of their communal gatherings, to their political suspicions of anyone's claim to legitimate authority.

Rituals of bodily purity serve to reinforce communal identities. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas famously observed in her classic work Purity and Danger, rules about pollution of the body are substitutes for morality: "They do not depend on a nice balancing of rights or duties. The only material question is whether a forbidden contact has taken place or not."

At the same time, as Dabashi suggests, the notion of having been wronged by the existing powers, which lies at the heart of Shiism, contributes to the notion that

    the veracity of the faith remains legitimate only so far as it is combative and speaks truth to power, and (conversely) almost instantly loses that legitimacy when it actually comes to power.

A logical resolution to this paradox would be a formal separation of powers between religion and state, where the religious leadership "speaks truth to power" without exercising executive authority. Such was the position of the clerical class during the regime of the Pahlavi shahs and for the most part under their predecessors of the Qajar dynasty (1785-1925), when there existed what Said Amir Arjomand has called an "unspoken concordat" between the state and the clerical establishment, with the latter refraining from criticizing the dynasty's policies.

It was Khomeini who radically upset this de facto concordat with his doctrine of Vilayet e-Faqih--the Guardianship of the Jurisconsult--whereby the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council appointed by him approve parliamentary candidates and have veto power over legislation (as well as control over much of the bureaucracy and armed forces) in competition with the elected president. The contradiction at the heart of the Islamic Republic exemplifies Zubaida's "contradictory duality of sovereignties" and constitutes a major obstacle to reform. It was the Guardian Council, for example, that effectively defeated the reformist agenda of President Sayyid Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) by rejecting his proposals--overwhelmingly approved by the parliament--for constitutional changes that would reduce the council's power and boost those of the presidency. Constitutionally speaking, Khatami's struggle was similar to Ahmadinejad's, although his social outlook (as a moderate with liberal instincts and advocate for international dialogue) was the diametrical opposite of Ahmadinejad's.

The messianism makes Shiism a far better basis for liberal democracy than Sunni Islam, better than secularism for that matter, so long as they ditch the immanentizing and gnosticism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Tough guys on illegal immigration (Doyle McManus, December 4, 2011, LA Times)

"I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally."

That was Ronald Reagan speaking during his 1984 reelection campaign. After that election, he stuck to his guns, signing an immigration reform law that allowed illegal immigrants to apply for residency if they could prove they'd lived in the country for five years, held jobs and committed no crimes.  [...]

A Fox News poll last year found that almost two-thirds of Republicans believe that "illegal immigrants who pay taxes and obey the law" should be given a chance to remain in the United States under some kind of legalization program. A majority also favored tougher enforcement of the law, but only one-third said they believed that deportation was the solution to the problem.

And, almost needless to say, a campaign that focuses on cracking down on illegal immigrants is a good way to alienate Latino voters, one of the fastest-growing parts of the electorate.

"Latinos feel as if they're being used as a political piñata," complained Hector Barajas, a GOP strategist in Sacramento who was Meg Whitman's spokesman in her 2010 campaign for governor.

"Obama says I'm with you but I'm not willing to do anything for you. The Republicans say we want to secure the border and enforce the law, but that's all they're saying. What happens after that? We never get to hear."

In Arizona, he warned, Democrats are registering thousands of new Latino voters in the wake of a controversial law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain while enforcing other laws, if the suspect appears to be a potential illegal immigrant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Political Islam poised to dominate the new world bequeathed by Arab spring (Peter Beaumont, 3 December 2011, The Guardian)

So what, precisely, does the rise of electoral Islamist politics mean for the Middle East and North Africa?

"Islamism is a term that has been used to describe two very different trends," wrote Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at Chatham House, in a recent paper on the implications of the Arab spring for British foreign policy earlier this year.

"First, [it describes] the non-violent quest for an Islamic-friendly society based on the 'principles of Islam', which can involve a more liberal application of Islamic teachings and tradition or a more strict interpretation. Second, Islamism is also associated with violent extremism, most notably that of al-Qaida in the promotion of terrorism."

Azzam, like a number of experts, is firm in the belief that, if the Arab spring has demonstrated anything about Islamism today, it is how those cleaving to the second, violent definition have become ever more marginalised in the Arab world.

Speaking to the Observer last week, Azzam said that, while it was "too early to say" how the policies of the Islamist parties thrown to the forefront of the Arab spring would play out in the region's present transformation, Islamist parties, for now at least, were looking to the centre.

"In Tunisia, Ennahda was always more open-minded and with a more liberal attitude towards secular politics. Now we have the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt leaning more towards the centre."

In Tunisia there has been a firm disavowal by the founder of Ennahda, Rachid Ghanouchi, of the Iranian theocratic model in favour of the Turkish one - represented by the moderate Islamist AKP of President Abdullah Gül and the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While it has its critics, that Turkish Islamist model has seen an essentially pragmatic approach to the country's largely secular institutions that has sought to avoid conflict with the military while attempting to raise both living standards and the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Suu Kyi Welcomes New U.S.-Myanmar Ties (Andrew Quinn, December 2, 2011, IB Times)

"We are happy with the way in which the United States is engaging with us and it is through engagement that we hope to promote a process of democratisation," said Suu Kyi, adding that Clinton's visit was a "historical moment" for both countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Coca Cola Dumps White Cans, Brings Back Red Ones (Aparajita Das, December 3, 2011, IB Times)

Coca Cola has dropped the production of white cans which were introduced to raise funds and awareness to protect the polar bear, an endangered species.

The 1.4 billion special edition of white cans under the Arctic Home campaign was launched a month back. But Coca Cola loyalists were not too enthusiastic about the change from its trademark red cans to white.

At least they didn't put New Coke in them.

December 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Eurozone crisis: the US has to ride to the rescue once again (Janet Daley,  03 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

So, once again, the United States has intervened to save Europe from itself. And there we were thinking that the old 20th-century pattern had been eradicated. The Federal Reserve Bank made floods of cheap dollars available last week, having come to the blood-curdling conclusion that the global banking system could only be saved from catastrophic collapse by sending in the American cavalry - Europe's own governing class being apparently incapable of effective action. [...]

In truth, it is almost impossible to understand the European dilemma because it is so arcane - so weighed down with historical accretions and ideological obscurantism - that it has become impenetrable even to the principal players in what is turning into a tragedy of monumental proportions. The original plan was designed out of remorse on the one hand - to heal Europe's ancient hatreds - but also to ensure that the unified power of the new European bloc would be a check on the overweening might of the United States. Instead, the old enmities and suspicions have been energetically revived and the US has, with its usual reluctance and misgivings, been forced to come to the rescue. Isn't this where we came in? The French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, said last week that war on the Continent could recur. It was unclear whether this was intended as a warning or a threat.

To Americans, an inability to escape from the past is incomprehensible: theirs is a country composed entirely of people who did exactly that. But Europe is populated by the people who did not leave, whose collective memory is imbued with either blood-and-soil national identity, or a proud sense of historical mission. It was a mistake to think that all this could be expunged as an act of political will by a single generation which saw itself as uniquely enlightened. Like most benign oligarchies, the EU built this new entity on what it thought to be morally unimpeachable, immutable principles: the provision of universal security which would prevent populations from descending into fractured, hostile factions. Civil unrest - and the terrible international crimes to which it gave rise - would be eradicated for ever by a system of social engineering and welfare that would provide permanent well-being (and so, permanent peace).

...that the Marshall Plan supplied the money for that welfare experiment precisely because we wanted them to die off quietly without our having to intervene again.  To a significant extent it succeeded.  Today we're buying them off instead of sending our sons there to die for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Australia's Labor Party Endorses Uranium Sales to India (IB Times, December 4, 2011)

Australia's ruling Labor Party Sunday endorsed plans to open up uranium sales to India, clearing the way for talks on a bilateral nuclear agreement and resolving an issue that has caused diplomatic tensions between the two nations.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the plan in November, but needed her party's national policy conference to overturn its ban on selling uranium to countries which are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Gillard successfully pushed her uranium policy through the conference, despite an often heated debate and chants from protesters who remain opposed to nuclear energy and weapons.

Common heritage, common enemies, Commonwealth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


A computer that thinks like the universe: If an atomic-scale computer can be built, it won't just create a faster machine: it will help us think like the universe (Joshua Rothman, November 26, 2011, Boston Globe)

With quantum computing, today's researchers are trying to perform a sort of jujitsu. Improbably, they want to use the uncertain, counterintuitive, probabilistic world of quantum mechanics to perform calculations -- and to break through the practical limits of modern, "classical" computers.

Unlike a computer circuit, atoms, electrons, and other atomic or subatomic particles aren't always hard and concrete; instead, they are more like clouds of probability. Get small enough, and you don't exist here or there; you exist here and there, simultaneously. A quantum computer builds this strange kind of reality right into its hardware. In a normal computer, each tiny switch represents a "bit," reading either "0" or "1." The basic unit of quantum computing is called a "qubit" -- an atom, electron, or other tiny particle that might be in one state, or another, or, crucially, somewhere in between. Quantum computing relies upon the fact that qubits can contain far more information than bits -- not just 1s and 0s, but combinations of the two. If we could learn to harness their processing power, we could use qubits to work far faster, and do far more, than we could with a traditional computer.

Qubits, unfortunately, are very, very hard to work with. Because they're so small, they're easily jostled; if that happens, the computer "decoheres" and becomes a bunch of atoms in a pile. They are exquisitely sensitive; look at them too soon, and you can change the result. And they are very hard to program. One of the best demonstrations of quantum computing to date, done in 2001 in an IBM lab in California, used a huge magnet and five atoms to figure out a very simple piece of arithmetic: that the factors of 15 are 3 and 5.

But what tantalizes some researchers is that, compared to a traditional computer, a quantum computer would operate much closer to the way the universe works. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Fee Fury (Kaustuv Basu, 12/02/11, Inside Higher Ed)

What if job applicants had to pay a fee every time they applied for a job?

Postdoctoral applicants in the humanities say they find themselves in a comparable situation as some university departments are charging an application fee. Some irate applicants have been lighting up a discussion board on the Internet to complain about the fees. While fees are the norm for applying to earn degrees, most say they are unusual for postdoctoral fellowships, which are jobs. [...]

"No one likes a fee, but there's nothing unusual about them. Although it is not their sole purpose, fees help to keep out the weaker applications," was one scholar's opinion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Iran's First Great Satan Was England (STEPHEN KINZER, 12/03/11, NY Times)

IF there is one country on earth where the cry "Death to England" still carries weight -- where people still harbor the white-hot hatred of British colonialism that once inflamed millions from South Africa to China -- that country would be Iran. And that is what the leaders of Iran must have been counting on when screaming militiamen, unhindered by the police, poured into the British Embassy in Tehran to vandalize it on Tuesday.

Most Iranians, like most people anywhere, would deplore the idea of thugs storming into a foreign embassy. Nonetheless, some may have felt a flicker of satisfaction. Even an outrage like this, they might have said, is a trifle compared with the generations of torment Britain inflicted on their country.

So Iran's mullahs -- they, not President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are reported to have been behind the attack -- were not gambling in ordering, or at least tolerating, it. They presumably realized that the world would denounce their flagrant violation of international law. But they also knew it would resonate with the narrative Iranians have heard for so long about their own history. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


What comes next: Afghanistan gets a rotten press in the West but the outlook is not all bad, particularly if the country's security forces, shown above, do what is hoped (The Economist, Dec 3rd 2011)

WHEN a bodyguard working for southern Afghanistan's most notorious power broker gunned down his boss in July, a medley of voices loudly declared the end was nigh for Kandahar. Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of Kandahar's provincial council and brother of Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, had long been accused of running a mafia-style criminal syndicate that excluded important tribes from influence, encouraging them to support the Taliban. Nonetheless, his death caused talk of a dangerous power vacuum. In fact, the city and province of Kandahar now look in better shape than they have for years. Roads in the province which were once laced with landmines, are far safer than they were and farmers from areas that were once war zones say they can drive their goods to market without fear.

Next week an international conference on the future of Afghanistan will be held in Bonn. It comes almost exactly a decade after the first, which was intended to launch one of the poorest countries in the world, torn apart by war for more than quarter of century, on a path towards stability, democracy and the rule of law. After numerous setbacks, the mood at next week's conference will be far less heady than it was ten years ago, just after al-Qaeda's Taliban hosts had been swept from power. But it will not be pessimistic. As the experience of Kandahar, once the centre of Taliban power, suggests, the news from Afghanistan is by no means all bad.

For a start, the fact that this conference is the first to be Afghan-led says something about the country's slowly growing capacity to organise (if not yet pay for) itself.

...the rest is up to you.

December 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Romney flexes organizational muscle in New Hampshire (Garrett Haake, 12/03/11, NBC)

On a cold, clear New Hampshire morning, the Romney campaign today opened a blitzkrieg grassroots effort in New Hampshire, designed to show off the campaign's organizational strength and support in a state considered vital to the former Massachusetts governor's presidential aspirations.

The campaign said the new effort, entitled "Earn It With Mitt," included 500 volunteers fanning out to knock on doors, distribute yard signs, and make thousands of calls across the state. And he kicked it off with a rally, headlined by Romney and his former presidential rival, Tim Pawlenty, here in Manchester.

...we can testify that the signage is omnipresent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Cain 'Suspends' Campaign (Melanie Jones, December 3, 2011, IB Times)

Herman Cain has officially withdrawn from the presidential primary race, "suspending" his campaign and hinting at an endorsement for one of his fellow GOP contenders in the coming weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Stalking the coy mistletoe: Starring in the tale of the Christmas kissing plant: Shotguns. And dung. (Virginia A. Smith, December 02, 2011, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Joe Arsenault is a botanist, but today he's turned detective as well. He's stalking the wetlands of South Jersey for mistletoe.

He usually finds it way up high in native black gum trees growing in or around marshes and coastal areas. Here, in its northernmost habitat on the East Coast, it forms sparkler-like configurations - the Navajo called them "baskets on high" - that are visible only after the trees drop all their leaves.

Even then, amateur eyes have difficulty.

We're on the road to Malaga Lake Park in Franklin Township, which has a stand of black gums lining the 105-acre lake that Arsenault wants to show us. He's driving ahead, we're following, and all of a sudden, he's jabbing a finger out his SUV window at some woods off to the left.

Must be mistletoe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Productivity's Four Sworn Enemies: The biggest time-wasters in the workplace have nothing to do with online shopping (Rick Wartzman, 12/02/11, Business Week)

[Peter] Drucker, I suspect, would have found all the focus on these Cyber Monday shenanigans a bit silly. Rather, the real cause for concern among managers should be those time-wasters that dog their enterprises every day of the week, all year long.

In The Effective Executive, his 1967 classic, Drucker identified four specific areas in which time loss "results from poor management and deficient organization." One of these is overstaffing.

"My first-grade arithmetic primer asked: 'If it takes two ditch-diggers two days to dig a ditch, how long would it take four ditch-diggers?'" Drucker wrote. "In first grade, the correct answer is, of course, 'one day.' In the kind of work, however, with which executives are concerned, the right answer is probably 'four days' if not 'forever.'"

A telltale sign of overstaffing: If the manager of a team spends more than about a tenth of his or her time "on feuds and frictions, on jurisdictional disputes and questions of cooperation, and so on," Drucker said, "then the work force is almost certainly too large." When that happens, he added, "people get into each other's way," as there is insufficient room "to move without colliding with one another."

What's more, Drucker asserted in a later essay titled "How to Guarantee Non-performance," "overstaffing always focuses energies on the inside, on 'administration' rather than 'results,' on the machinery rather than its purpose. ... It immobilizes behind a façade of furious busyness." that businesses actually lose no productivity when those employees shop at work.  They weren't doing anything productive to begin with.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


A Work in Progress: The great Jacquez Barzun turned 105 yesterday: a review of Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind By Michael Murray (Gerald J. Russello, 12.1.11, American Spectator)

Through their forty-year collaboration, [Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling] sought linkages among objects, ideas, and movements as a way of making sense of politics, literature, and history. This intellectual stance is now called "cultural studies," and has something of a radical air about it, thanks to several decades where it was used as an all-purpose term for a variety of anti-intellectual and political ideologies. Barzun and Trilling were not radicals, at least not in a contemporary sense. Unlike many current practitioners of the genre, they were unafraid to apply judgment, to discriminate among various cultural objects and determine the worth among them, and how they fit together. And they were united that culture and art break ideological boundaries and cannot be restricted to rigid formula. Barzun, therefore, was no New Critic; he understood that cultural objects occur within a culture, and that although they may have lasting value, that value derives in part from its connections with other objects. And it is the job of a critic to explain those connections.

As Michael Murray shows in this, the first full-length biography of Barzun, that capacity to judge has been central in all of Barzun's writing. Murray, a bibliographer and editor of a Barzun reader as well as biographies of Albert Schweitzer and Marcel Dupré, highlights Barzun's "fine discrimination among ideas," evident, for example, in his bestselling From Dawn to Decadence. That book did not display the gloom of many conservative diatribes, nor did it celebrate the fragmentation of Western culture and embrace of the "other," as many liberals fantasized. Rather, Barzun made a nuanced but ultimately compelling case for the contemporary Western culture as a period of decline leading to relative quiescence. However, this need not be a permanent circumstance, but need last only as long as it takes new ideas to germinate. Decadence "implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of Possibility."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Jeremy Clarkson calls people who throw themselves under trains 'selfish' (Jasmine Coleman, 12/03/11,

Jeremy Clarkson has waded into further controversy by describing people who kill themselves by throwing themselves under trains as "selfish". [...]

"I have the deepest sympathy for anyone whose life is so mangled and messed up that they believe death's icy embrace will be better," he said.

"However, it is a very selfish way to go because the disruption it causes is immense.

Who knew there was even a counterargument about the selfishness of suicide?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


John Stuart Mill, Dead Thinker of the Year: The 19th century thinker still has much to teach us on liberty. (ROBERT D. KAPLAN | DECEMBER 2011, Foreign Policy)

Mill asserts, in On Liberty, and especially in Considerations on Representative Government, that while democratic government is surely to be preferred in theory, it is incredibly problematic in its particulars. This, of course, is part of Mill's larger exploration of liberty, and why ultimately the only justification a government has to curtail that liberty is when a person's behavior impinges on the rights of others. Despotism may work better in some instances, if only as a temporary measure, he writes; democracy is not suited for each and every society during significant periods of its development. I am crudely simplifying Mill, who is so clear while being so incredibly nuanced, and thus immensely readable.

"Progress includes Order," Mill writes in Considerations, "but Order does not include Progress." Tyranny may be the political building block of all human societies, but if they don't get beyond tyranny, the result is moral chaos and stagnation. Middle Eastern despots of our day too often supplied only Order; Asian ones have brought Progress, too. Thus China's rulers, who must retire at a certain point, who bring technical expertise to their rule, and who govern in a collegial style, are much to be preferred over the North African variety, to say nothing of those in Syria or Yemen. Yet even in those cases, the prospect of a collapse of central authority indicates that, pace Mill, there may be no alternative to some sort of dictatorship, at least in the very short term.

Mill's philosophy actually builds on that of his 17th-century compatriot, Thomas Hobbes, another thinker all too relevant for our times. Hobbes is often regarded as a preacher of doom and gloom. In fact, he wasn't. He stared into the abyss of anarchy and realized there was, indeed, a solution that could lead to order and progress. That solution was the state. Hobbes extols the moral benefits of fear and sees violent anarchy as the chief threat to society. For Hobbes -- best known for observing that the lives of men are "nasty, brutish, and short" -- fear of violent death is the cornerstone of enlightened self-interest. By establishing a state, men replace the fear of violent death with the fear that only those who break the law need face. So while Hobbes made the case for central authority, Mill built on him to help us understand how humanity must get beyond mere authority in order to erect a liberal regime.

Such concepts are sometimes difficult to grasp for today's urban middle class, which has long since lost any contact with man's natural condition. But the horrific violence of a disintegrating Iraq, or this year's fears of state collapse in places such as Yemen and Syria, have allowed many of us to imagine man's original state. In fact, as more and more nondemocratic systems find it harder and harder to survive in this age of instant electronic communications, Mill and Hobbes will top the dead thinkers list for years to come.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Heart & Soul Of Stockholm: An Interview With I Break Horses (John Freeman , November 29th, 2011, Quietus)
Stockholm is a beautiful place. Spanning several islands, a combination of opulent architecture, grand waterways and impossibly good-looking townsfolk create a winning first impression. It's the sort of city where one can dine in a 300-year-old restaurant frequented by the Nobel Prize committee - the cloudberry soup dessert is perfection. I'm meeting up with I Break Horses, two Stockholm natives. When they arrive in the lobby of my hotel singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maria Lindén and drummer Fredrik Balck are immediately warm, open and welcoming. They also appear to be utterly without any sense of just how good their debut album Hearts actually is. When I compliment Maria on the waves of heady, shoegaze-leaning electronica that make up their sound, she seems to be fighting back tears. Her reaction is genuine - Maria has put both heart and soul into her music.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Dragon's Egg: High fantasy for young adults. (Adam Gopnik December 5, 2011, The New Yorker)

At Oxford in the nineteen-forties, Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was generally considered the most boring lecturer around, teaching the most boring subject known to man, Anglo-Saxon philology and literature, in the most boring way imaginable. "Incoherent and often inaudible" was Kingsley Amis's verdict on his teacher. Tolkien, he reported, would write long lists of words on the blackboard, obscuring them with his body as he droned on, then would absent-mindedly erase them without turning around. "I can just about stand learning the filthy lingo it's written in," Philip Larkin, another Tolkien student, complained about the old man's lectures on "Beowulf." "What gets me down is being expected to admire the bloody stuff."

It is still one of the finest jests of the modern muses that this fogged-in English don was going home nights to work on perhaps the most popular adventure story ever written, thereby inventing one of the most successful commercial formulas that publishing possesses, and establishing the foundation of the modern fantasy industry. Beginning with Terry Brooks's mid-seventies "The Sword of Shannara"--which is almost a straight retelling, with the objects altered--fantasy fiction, of the sword-and-sorcery kind, has been an annex of Tolkien's imagination. A vaguely medieval world populated by dwarfs, elves, trolls; an evil lord out to enslave the good creatures; and, almost always, a weird magic thing that will let him do it, if the hero doesn't find or destroy it first--that is the Tolkien formula. Each element certainly has an earlier template and a source, but they enter the bookstore, and the best-seller list, through Tolkien's peculiar treatment of them. Of all the unexpected things in contemporary literature, this is among the oddest: that kids have an inordinate appetite for very long, very tricky, very strange books about places that don't exist, fights that never happened, all set against the sort of medieval background that Mark Twain thought he had discredited with "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court."

What did Tolkien do to this stale stuff to make it so potent? Another British don, Christopher Ricks, once dismissed Tolkien as "our Ossian," referring to a third-century Irish bard, supposed to be the author of "Fingal" and other Gaelic epics, and wildly popular in the eighteenth century, whose works were actually written by his supposed "translator," James Macpherson. Dr. Johnson knew it was a fraud, and when asked if any modern man could possibly have written such poetry replied, "Many men, many women, and many children." Ricks meant the comparison to Ossian as a putdown--that there is something fraudulent and faddish about Tolkien's ginned-up medievalism.

But the remark helps bring out Tolkien's real achievement. When you actually read the Ossian epics, you find that they are shaped entirely to neoclassical tastes. The work is heavily Homeric, remote and noble, full of gloomy gray seas and doomy gray mountains, and ribboned with bardlike epithets. "The Lord of the Rings," by contrast, begins in lovable local detail, birthday parties and fireworks and family squabbles. Tolkien's early works--"The Silmarillion" and "The Children of Húrin," published only after his death--are devoid of Hobbits and humors and pipe-smoking wizards; they really are like Ossian, and as dull as dishwater in consequence. Even if, as Johnson thought, a child could have written Ossian, children were never meant to read it. There's no bright foreground to the story.

This is surely the most significant of the elements that Tolkien brought to fantasy. It's true that his fantasies are uniquely "thought through": every creature has its own origin story, script, or grammar; nothing is gratuitous. But even more compelling was his arranged marriage between the Elder Edda and "The Wind in the Willows"--big Icelandic romance and small-scale, cozy English children's book. The story told by "The Lord of the Rings" is essentially what would happen if Mole and Ratty got drafted into the Nibelungenlied. (J. K. Rowling intuitively followed this part of the formula by mixing a very old-fashioned kind of English public-school story in with Tolkien's sword-and-sorcery realm.)

Modernist ambiguity, or realist emotional ambivalence, is unknown to Tolkien--the good people are very good, the bad people very bad, and though occasionally a character may be tossed between good and evil, like Gollum, it is self-interest, rather than conscience, that makes him tip back and forth. Betrayal and temptation happen; inner doubts do not. Gandalf and Aragorn never say, as even the most patriotic real-world general might, "I don't know which side I should be on, or, indeed, if any side is worth taking." Nor does any Mordor general stop to reflect, as even many German officers did, on the tension between duty and morality: there are no Hectors, bad guys we come to admire, or Agamemnons, good guys we come to deplore. (Comic-book moralities, despite their reputation, are craftier; the "X-Men" series is powerful partly because it's clear that, if you and I were mutants, we would quite possibly side with the evil Magneto.)

What substitutes for psychology in Tolkien and his followers, and keeps the stories from seeming barrenly external, is what preceded psychology in epic literature: an overwhelming sense of history and, with it, a sense of loss. The constant evocation of lost or fading glory--Númenor has fallen, the elves are leaving Middle-earth--does the emotional work that mixed-up minds do in realist fiction. We know that Westernesse is lost even before we know what the hell Westernesse was, and our feeling for its loss lends dimension to those who have lost it. (There is also, in Tolkien, the complete elimination of lust as a normal motive in daily life. The wicked Wormtongue lusts for Éowyn at the court of Rohan, but this is thought to be very creepy.)

To see the road not taken, one need only think of that parallel fantasy masterpiece, written in exactly the same decades, and on a similar scale, by a similarly eccentric Englishman: T. H. White's four-volume retelling of the story of King Arthur and his court, "The Once and Future King." White, too, modernizes and sweetens his epic story, but he more overtly moralizes it, and he makes it emotionally ambiguous as well: What is right? Who gets to decide? Does duty come before passion? White worries about ambiguity and halftones: the impotence of the idealist King; the beauty and doom of the adulterous lovers; the capacity of good law to make bad judgments--it is Arthur, not Mordred, who has to sentence Guenevere to death. Where White's literary task was to study the fate of epic ideals in a recognizably real world, Tolkien's was to find a way to create the illusion of the real world in an idealized epic one. But though "The Once and Future King" inspired the musical "Camelot," our new Arthurian romances are likely to be given a Tolkienesque treatment, focussing on clashes between armies, not within souls. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Pulling the Trigger on Failing Schools: Parents aim for revolution -- again (Simone Wilson, December 01, 2011, LA Weekly)

Instead of pushing disenfranchised parents into battle under a shiny Parent Revolution flag, the organization has been fostering "parent unions" at schools across California. Of the 10 current chapters, most aren't interested in pulling the trigger. At those schools, Revolution is merely helping give parents bargaining power against the other unions on the block: the all-powerful California Teachers Association and, locally, United Teachers Los Angeles.

One of the parent-union chapters, however, has been itching for months to launch a full-scale "restart" of its struggling SoCal elementary school -- one of the trigger's four options. Organizers asked the Weekly not to name the campus in question, as doing so could create extra obstacles for the fledgling effort. Members planned to begin a signature drive this week.

The second trigger test run comes just as the law's regulations go into effect. "We actually had to say, 'Slow down,' " says Linda Serrato, deputy communications director for Parent Revolution.

If they wish to turn their school around by the start of the 2012-13 academic year, this small group of petitioners has until February to get signatures from hundreds more parents. From there, the district has 45 days to find something legally unsound with the petition -- or concede to the trigger.

Christina Sanchez, a Parent Revolution staffer, says the organization will be taking a back seat this time around.

"Our role has been fine-tuning their specific demands for change," Sanchez says.

Parent Revolution's roots in the charter-school industry -- and its wealthy donors, such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family -- have so far haunted every step of its education-reform crusade. Plus, by demanding teacher accountability, the organization has become a target of California teachers unions, which have been known to lobby and pay away any legislation that puts pressure on teachers.

...which group are the schools supposed to serve?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Dum Dum Girls On World Cafe (World Cafe, November 30, 2011, NPR)

In both packaging and sound, Dum Dum Girls is a patchwork of subtle pop-culture references and influences. The group takes its name from Iggy Pop's "Dum Dum Boys," as well as from The Vaselines' album Dum Dum. Dee Dee, the band's founder, vocalist and songwriter, grew up listening to her father's Frank Sinatra albums and her mother's Beach Boys records. The group has benefited from the influence of producer Richard Gottehrer, who has worked with Blondie and The Go-Go's among many others, and who helped develop the group's '60s-style girl-group sound. Once the contemporary influences of bands like The Raveonettes are taken into account, it becomes clear that Dum Dum Girls' sound is a pastiche of some of the most successful lo-fi, rock, noise-pop and girl bands of the past few decades.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


December 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


George Bush Arrest Unlikely After Warm Welcome in Zambia (Anissa Haddadi, December 2, 2011, IB Times)

The Bush family is continuing its health awareness African trip despite Amnesty's international calls for the former President's arrest over human rights violations.

The former President, his wife, daughter and the rest of the US delegation were first welcomed by a traditional dance troop upon their arrival at the KK International Airport in Lusaka, so Amnesty's call is set to be left unanswered for now.

They were also greeted by Zambia President Michael Sata, First Lady Christine Kaseba, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala, and other ministers and diplomats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


Israelis In U.S. Blast 'Come Home' Ad Campaign (Stewart Ain, 12/02/11, Jewish Week)

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he found the commercials "heavy-handed and even demeaning. While we appreciate the rationale behind the Israeli government's appeal to its citizens living in the U.S. to return to Israel, we are concerned that some may be offended by what the video implies about American Jewry."

Shouldn't that be American "Jewry"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Three-quarters of Telegraph readers back Clarkson over 'execution' of strikers rant (Murray Wardop, 02 Dec 2011, The Telegraph)

A poll among readers found that 73 per cent believed the Top Gear presenter had not gone too far in his remarks on the BBC's The One Show because he was evidently only trying to raise a laugh.

Of the 16,718 people who took part in the survey, only 27 per cent believed Clarkson's rant was offensive.

The 51-year-old television star came under heavy criticism after he launched an attack on public servants, suggesting they ought to be executed in front of their families for taking industrial action over reforms to their gold-plated pensions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The Grand Alliance: A review of Churchill and America, by Martin Gilbert (Steven F. Hayward, Spring 2006, Claremont Review of Books)

Peel away the layers of the Left's disdain for the Bush Administration and you find a fundamental discomfort with the idea of American exceptionalism--the idea, as old as the founding itself, that America is a special, even providential nation because it is, in Leo Strauss's words, "the only country in the world which was founded in explicit opposition to Machiavellian principles." In sum, the chief political division of our time may be over the nature and meaning of America itself.

It is not surprising, then, that Europeans, committed to an increasingly watery internationalism, take exception to American exceptionalism. Winston Churchill was one of the few foreign statesmen of the last century who embraced American exceptionalism and understood its importance for the world. "My faith in the progress of America is unshakeable," he said in middle age. Churchill believed in "Anglo-Saxon superiority"; he saw America's greatness as the fruit of democratic principles first sown in Britain. In 1955, during his final Cabinet meeting as prime minister, he adjured his Cabinet, "Never be separated from the Americans," an axiom his successors have largely heeded.'s Anglosphere-wide and didn't even start with us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Back to Bush's Big-Government Conservatism: The leading Republican candidates promise more of the same. (Michael Tanner, 11/30/11, National Review)

In the wake of the disastrous Bush presidency and the Republican defeats of 2006 and 2008, it was widely assumed that the GOP had repudiated the idea that big government could be harnessed for conservative ends. And, of course, in 2010, the Tea Party led a return to conservatism's traditional small-government roots, resulting in the biggest Republican landslide in 70 years. One would think that settled the matter.

Yet, just five weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, both of the front-runners for the Republican nomination are strong advocates for a bigger, more activist government.

This one raises a new standard of incomprehension, failing to grasp W, the Tea Party and the voters in the Republican nomination process in one fell swoop.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


When Will We Have Unmanned Commercial Airliners?: Unmanned planes dominate the battlefield, yet airliners still have pilots--and copilots (Philip E. Ross  /  December 2011, IEEE Spectrum)

Time was when a uniformed man would close a metal gate, throw a switch, and intone, "Second floor--men's clothing, linens, power tools..." and the carload of people would glide upward. Now each passenger handles the job with a punch of a button and not a hint of white-knuckled hesitation. The first automatic elevator was installed by Otis Elevator Co. in 1924; the things became common in the 1950s.

And back in the day, every train had an "engineer" in the cab of the locomotive. Then robo-trains took over intra-airport service, and in the past decade they have appeared on subway lines in Copenhagen, Detroit, Tokyo, and other cities.

Quietly, automation has taken charge of many other life-and-death functions. It manages white-hot ribbons of steel that shoot through rolling mills. It guides lasers that sculpt the eye and scalpels that excise the prostate gland. It runs oceangoing freighters, the crews of which have shrunk by an order of magnitude in living memory. And, most obviously, it is mastering aerial warfare. Today, the U.S. military trains twice as many ground operators for its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as pilots for its military jets. Its UAVs started off by flying surveillance missions, then took on ground attack; now they are being readied to move cargo and evacuate wounded soldiers.

In the sphere of commercial flight, too, automation has thinned the cockpit crew from five to just the pilot and copilot, whose jobs it has greatly simplified. Do we even need those two? Many aviation experts think not. "A pilotless airliner is going to come; it's just a question of when," said James Albaugh, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines, in a talk he gave in August at the AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, in Portland, Ore. "You'll see it in freighters first, over water probably, landing very close to the shore."

Later, when air-traffic control systems rise to the challenge, pilotless planes will carry stuff to your very doorstep. In the fullness of time, they'll carry you.

....just a wealth distribution evolution.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Immigration And the Party Of Reagan: Restrictionism is part of the protectionist creed and historically has been embraced by big labor and others on the political left. (ALFONSO AGUILAR, 12/02/11, WSJ)

Why then are the conservative credentials of Messrs. Gingrich and Perry being questioned? Aren't their positions in line with the Gipper's? Ironically, it is their accusers who are not being true to conservative principles. Many echo the anti-immigration sentiments of such restrictionist groups as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, which are anything but conservative. These groups are mostly led by population-control activists and radical environmentalists who agree with the absurd Malthusian premise that people are pollution.

While the majority of Republicans don't agree with the restrictionist view of the world, too many remain silent for fear of being labeled soft on illegal immigration. [...]

Conservatives understandably support the rule of law and are concerned when it is violated. But most also are compassionate to those who are less fortunate but trying as best they can to better themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


For Herman Cain, the campaign all but over (SHANNON McCAFFREY, 12/01/11, Associated Press)

Herman Cain is still campaigning for president. But by most measures, his White House bid is all but over.

His standing in polls is cratering. Supporters are wavering if not fleeing. Fundraising is suffering. [...]

Even before all that surfaced, Cain faced steep hurdles to the nomination. He didn't have much of a campaign organization. He was spending more time on a book tour than in early primary and caucus states. And he was facing doubts about whether he was ready for the presidency, given a series of fumbles on policy questions.

Over the past month, Cain has watched his standing in polls sink. He acknowledged his fundraising took a hit after White came forward, and political experts predict that his ability to take in campaign cash will evaporate now that he is re-evaluating whether to remain in the race. If he decides to continue running, Cain would face another big hurdle: the loss of grassroots support, which has provided the core of his base for his anti-establishment campaign.

Atlanta Tea Party Patriots co-founder Debbie Dooley typifies the falloff of support. She had been vigorously defending Cain as the sexual harassment allegations trickled out. But White's accusation proved too much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


60% of adult illegal immigrants in U.S. for 10 years or more, report says (Paloma Esquivel, December 1, 2011, LA Times)

More than 60% of adult illegal immigrants in the U.S. have lived here for at least 10 years and nearly half have minor children, according to a report published Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

December 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


America's oldest flour company finds success on the web (PJ Hamel, 12/01/2011, Official Google Blog)

This is the story of a small, regional company that sells... flour. Yes, flour. It's the story of how King Arthur Flour, a centuries-old company, used the web to grow into an international business, devoted to spreading the pure joy of baking throughout the world. Thanks to the web, it's a story that will stretch far into the future.

Now America's oldest flour company, King Arthur Flour began in 1790. George Washington had just become the United States' first President. Despite the recent Revolution, Americans missed their English flour. So Henry Wood, a Boston entrepreneur, began to import flour from England. (Import from England--our arch-enemy? Even then, King Arthur Flour wasn't afraid to make a bold move.)

Over the next two centuries King Arthur grew, in its own small way. The business gradually moved beyond the Boston area, and sold its flour throughout all of New England (we also moved our HQ to Vermont). In 1990, King Arthur launched The Baker's Catalogue, a mail-order catalogue selling flour, tools and baking ingredients. Over the next five years, the catalogue helped introduce King Arthur Flour to markets outside of New England.

By 1996, King Arthur Flour was selling like hotcakes, with flour in supermarkets across the U.S. The World Wide Web was also growing in reach. That's when we decided to make another bold move: taking our business online. We could see the power of the web--how it would enable us to reach customers and markets a small company like ours would never have had access to in the past.

King Arthur's first site, in retrospect, was crudely designed and very, very basic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM

THEY HAD US AT "MA'AM" (via The Other Brother):

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Herman Cain admits payments to Ginger White, edges toward quitting (Brad Knickerbocker, December 1, 2011, CS Monitor)

The drip, drip, drip of revelations related to Cain's conduct and character continued Thursday when he met with the editors of New Hampshire's statewide Union Leader newspaper, a powerful conservative voice in Republican politics.

Cain acknowledged that he had been giving money to Ginger White, the woman who alleges that she had a 13-year affair with the Republican businessman. He also said that his wife Gloria did not know about that - or even that Ms. White was a friend of Cain's - until the alleged affair was reported in recent days.

How much is George Soros paying him to lie like that?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Israeli Government Tells Israelis Not to Marry American Jews: The Israeli government has launched an aggressive advertising campaign in the U.S. to discourage its expats from marrying American Jews--who some see as not really Jews at all. (Allison Yarrow, 12/01/11, Daily Beast)

Jewish children reared in America grow up hearing one thing on repeat. It's like a dull tuning fork in the ear, or an image that sticks in the brain. Marry a Jew. Over and over. As if each time is the first. The subtext is that each of us is responsible for all of us, and if we intermarry, we risk disappearing completely. American Jews preach marrying each other in Israel's name. The act does the Jewish homeland proud. A friend's parent once told me that marrying a Jew would be great, but marrying an Israeli would be even better.

Unfortunately for American Jews, and all those niggling parents, it turns out that Israel might not be on our team in this marriage game. A middling and now infamous Israeli government department has forged a peculiar U.S.-based advertising campaign. In a series of videos and billboards, they are discouraging Israeli expats from marrying American Jews and imploring them to move back to Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Audubon's Birds of America (University of Pittsburgh)

The University of Pittsburgh is fortunate to own one of the rare, complete sets of John James Audubon's Birds of America. It is considered to be the single most valuable set of volumes in the collections of the University Library System (ULS). Indeed, only 120 complete sets are known to exist.

While Audubon was creating Birds of America, he was also working on a companion publication, namely, his Ornithological Biography. Both of these sets were acquired by William M. Darlington in the mid-nineteenth century and later donated, as part of his extensive library, to the University of Pittsburgh. Recognizing that the Darlington Library includes significant historical materials, such as rare books, maps, atlases, illustrations, and manuscripts, the ULS charted an ambitious course to digitize a large portion of Mr. Darlington's collection, including the Birds of America.

We are pleased to present our complete double elephant folio set of Audubon's Birds of America, accompanied by his Ornithological Biography, through this Web site. Together these sets constitute an unprecedented online combination.

If you're watching Art of America on the BBC, it's pretty cool to be able to look at digital versions of the plates he went and examined.  If not, cool to see the bird that got Alger Hiss in all that bother.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Gingrich Evolves on Federal Role (LOUISE RADNOFSKY, 12/01/11, WSJ)

Newt Gingrich's rise in Republican presidential polls has come as he positioned himself as the true conservative who could capture the small-government fervor of primary voters. But his long history of policy pronouncements suggests the former House Speaker also believes in the power of government to do big things.

At various times in his career, Mr. Gingrich has come out in favor of requiring that individuals carry health insurance and increasing federal spending for scientific research. He has backed programs run by the Education Department, which many of his peers would like to abolish, as well as national curriculum standards and a government response to climate change.

Mr. Gingrich has said he favors government solutions when they are smart. On the campaign trail, he has denied some of his positions and toned down others. And he has won the loyalty, for now, of many Republican primary voters, despite holding views that might appear anathema to them.'s about strong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Entitlement Reform Revolution: Newt Gingrich has proposed the most cutting-edge solution to our fiscal crisis. (Peter Ferrara, 11.30.11, American Spectator)

Gingrich proposes reforms that would empower workers with the freedom to choose to save and invest what they and their employers would otherwise pay into Social Security in personal savings, investment, and insurance accounts. My own studies with various colleagues over the years show that at standard, long-term, market investment returns, for an average income, two-earner couple over a career, the accounts would accumulate to close to a million dollars or more, depending on how big the account option is. Even lower income workers could regularly accumulate half a million over their careers.

Those accumulated funds would pay all workers of all income levels much higher benefits than Social Security even promises let alone what it could pay. That includes one earner couples with stay at home moms caring for the children. Retirees would each be free to choose to leave any portion of these funds to their children at death.

In retirement, benefits payable from the personal accounts would substitute for a portion of Social Security benefits based on the degree to which workers exercised the account option over their careers. This is where the spending savings come in. The personal accounts don't just reduce the growth of government spending. They shift vast swaths of such spending from the public sector altogether, to the private sector.

Gingrich proposes to start the accounts focused on younger workers first. But over time the accounts would be expanded to take over financing for all of the benefits financed by the payroll tax today. That would ultimately amount to the greatest reduction in government spending in world history.

Moreover, eventually replacing the payroll tax entirely with personal savings and investment directly owned by each worker and his family would provide the greatest reduction in taxes in world history.

In 1981, the South American nation of Chile, then with a Social Security system just like ours, with the same problems, adopted such a personal account option, with astounding success. Virtually all workers chose the accounts within 18 months, and for 30 years now they have paid half the taxes of the old system, in return for at least twice the benefits, while their economy boomed with all the increased savings and investment. Those reforms included a safety net guarantee of former Social Security benefits, which has never suffered a loss or cost due to failure of a personal account to beat the old system. That is also included in the Gingrich plan.

In America itself, such a system was tried in 1981 as well, for local government workers in Galveston, Texas, who still enjoyed an option under the law then to choose an alternative to the current system. Just as in Chile, for 30 years now they have paid much less into their personal account savings and investment system than required by Social Security, but receive much more in benefits. The similar Thrift Savings Plan retirement system for federal employees has similarly worked spectacularly well now for nearly 30 years.

Model legislation providing for such accounts was introduced in 2004 and 2005 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), now Chairman of the House Budget Committee. I worked closely with Ryan in developing that legislation. A similar proposal is now included in the Ryan Roadmap. On September 12 of this year, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) introduced another model bill on which I worked closely as well.

Both bills were officially scored by the Chief Actuary of Social Security as eliminating all future Social Security deficits through the operation of the personal accounts alone, without benefit cuts or tax increases. [...]

Gingrich's proposed entitlement reforms include as well repealing and replacing Obamacare with Patient Power, as long advanced by John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The classic example of such policy is Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), which were also first recognized in federal law when Gingrich was Speaker. The concept behind HSAs is to start with an insurance policy with a high annual deductible, which reduces the cost of the insurance substantially. The savings are then kept in the HSA to pay expenses below the deductible. Generally, after one healthy year with little or no medical expenses, the patient by the second year would have more than enough in the account to cover all expenses below the deductible.

This transforms the incentives of third party payment. For all but catastrophic health expenses, the patient is essentially using his own money for health care. Whatever he doesn't spend he can keep. So the patient will try to avoid unnecessary care, and look for less expensive care and alternatives for what he does need.

In turn, since patients would now be concerned about costs, doctors, hospitals and other providers would now compete to control costs, as well as maximize quality, as in all normal markets. This competition would become more intense and effective the more widespread HSAs and similar incentives become. These incentives would flow all the way through to the developers of new technologies. Since both patients and health providers are now concerned with costs, technology innovators would now have incentives to develop technologies that reduce costs, as well as improve quality.

Gingrich proposes to control health costs by expanding HSAs throughout the health care system. Workers would be empowered with the freedom to choose them in place of employer provided coverage, the poor would be empowered to choose them for their Medicaid coverage, seniors would be empowered to choose them for Medicare.

Add personal unemployment accounts, O'Neill accounts for newborns...

The Third Way is coming, it's just a matter of which party gets credit for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Three inconvenient truths for Occupy Wall Street: Occupy Wall Street needs to recognize some realities about what drives income inequality. (Nick Schulz, November 30, 2011, LA Times)

A third dynamic widening income disparities is in some ways the most inconvenient of all: the collapse of intact families. The explosion of out-of-wedlock births and of children living outside of two-parent households has widened economic disparities of all kinds, including income.

The reason is straightforward. The role that human and social capital plays in helping a person generate income in an advanced economy has increased over the last half a century. And over that same time, the primary institution for inculcating human and social capital has badly weakened.

Social scientists routinely find that individuals raised in intact families are generally better equipped to thrive in the economy. Today's 99% is teeming with tens of millions of Americans who were not raised in a stable home environment, and their earnings potential is compromised as a result.

The problem of family breakdown doesn't lend itself to easy fixes. And its cultural roots run quite deep at this point. But it's a safe bet that in the several months they occupied Zuccotti Park and other public spaces, not one new idea was raised by Occupiers that would help arrest this driver of increasing income inequality.

As we consider ways to redistribute the wealth that we can generate with ever fewer people filling traditional jobs, maybe one solution is to pay married parents who stay home with the kids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM

"There are two ways of getting home and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place."
- G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man